Standing shoulder to shoulder on the steps of the High Point Country Club, men and women joke and laugh together as the camera captures their smiling faces. As the camera flashes though, it’s clear that several of them are uncertain about being the ones with the spotlight shining on them. These men and women are the ones who stand in the background daily, letting the spotlight shine on someone else; letting the spotlight shine on their students.
But on this day, the celebration and spotlight is focused solely on them, as community members from all walks of life gather to attend Celebrating High Point’s Extraordinary Educators.
The event, established in partnership between the High Point Community Foundation, High Point Schools Partnership (HPSP), and High Point Discovered, was created solely to celebrate the 25 honored educators in attendance – and the ones serving all over our city.
These 25 educators, representing schools across High Point, were nominated by their principals as extraordinary educators in their schools: leaders, mentors and guides for their students who go above and beyond their job requirements. Words are shared throughout the luncheon and reception to honor these teachers and, one by one, they are called forward to receive their gift, which is a small token of thanks for the tremendous work they do.
“And the gift card in the basket is for you!” Dawn Spencer, coordinator of HPSP says as gift baskets are passed to each teacher. Her words are met with a chorus of sheepish laughter from teachers and playful words of warning from principals. Many of the teachers would willingly spend their gift on resources for their students without a second thought. And although today is about teachers, it’s clear, many teachers still have their students on their minds.
Teachers comment about remarkable students they’ve taught and exchange stories about students they all know. One educator, Nita Canon, a teacher at Southwest Guilford High School, laughs as she learns from another teacher at the reception that she has had the teacher’s son in her classroom. Educators exchange stories about their classrooms, often referring to their students as “their kids,” or “their babies.” It’s clear that these men and women don’t just share a profession; they share a family.
So it’s no surprise that when asked about what is most important in their classrooms, this response comes up again and again: relationships.
“Everything else is built on relationships,” Andrea Rauber, of Triangle Lake Montessori says.
Coshenda Clark of Johnson Street Global Studies answers the question almost instantly, when asked what is most important in her classroom.
“Once I have a relationship with the students, I know them at a different level,” she explains. “I can then meet all of their needs, not just their educational needs. I can meet their academic, social, and emotional needs of their family… If you don’t have a relationship, you can’t do that. So it’s my job to build a relationship and get to know them.”
Teachers like Andrea Emmanuel, a teacher at Welborn Academy of Science and Technology cite their own childhood experience as the inspiration for their relationship-building profession.
“Middle school was a little hard for me,” Emmanuel says, “and I didn’t want any other adolescent around that age to go through the same thing I did. There’s more to life than our environment and the communities we grow up in, and it just takes somebody to show us that.”
Even though many principals admit that there are loads of teachers in their schools that work to be the “somebody” Andrea Emmanuel refers to, it’s obvious the ones chosen to stand before the audience today earned the respect and trust of their colleagues.
Principals stand proudly be side their chosen teachers, sharing moments of pride they have for their teachers, like Principal Kristina Wheat of Johnson Street Global Studies, who stands beside her teacher honoree, Coshenda Clark.
“Coshenda will not tell you this, but that is one of her greatest strengths is building relationships with families who maybe didn’t have a great schooling experience themselves,” Kristina says. “She partners with them and makes them feel like an important part of her classroom. She invites them in. They volunteer, and they become part of her classroom unit. She really capitalizes on making those positive relationships with her families also, so she can better support her students.”
Throughout the day, it’s clear that these extraordinary educators don’t just teach in their classrooms but seize the opportunities to push their students through challenges and remind them of their worth and potential.
“[I want] my students to know they are loved and cared for, that they’re important, and that they leave the school year knowing they can do anything,” says Barb Collins, kindergarten teacher at Northwood Elementary.
Another teacher, Jakima Ledbetter of Oak Hill Elementary smiles instantly when asked what she loves about teaching: “Being able to make the lightbulb go off for so many of our students and letting them know there are possibilities!”
And these possibilities that our extraordinary educators provide to our students are possibilities that we can be part of. Cyril Jefferson, co-chair of educator engagement for HPSP and proud Red Raiders alumnus, asks all families in the High Point community to consider ways that they can partner with local schools.
“Education is both an issue and an opportunity, ” Jefferson says to the audience. He then reminds all those in attendance to thoughtfully consider the narrative and perception around High Point schools.
How do we tell our own stories a bout schools?” he asks, and encourages the audience to find ways to tell the truth, which he calls a “remarkable truth,” about our schools. “We can all be champions of education.”
Other speakers, like Dr. Tony Watlington, GCS chief of schools, remind the audience to consider how far the school system has come, quoting President Lyndon B. Johnson’s vision on quality and equal educational opportunities for all students.
“We can do better, and we have to do i t together,” Dr. Watlington says.
Many teachers already see the individual needs and successes of schools beyond their own, like Lucinda Johnson, teacher at Penn-Griffin School for the Arts.
“I believe all kids can learn, a nd I believe all students should have a highly qualified educator who provides equitable education for them,” she says. “[I hope] that we get better and better every day, that we can serve more students. [I hope] that we set the bar very high for our expectations for what education looks like in every school.”
The afternoon ends with resounding applause and a sense of resolve that the more we recognize the individual men and women who are extraordinary educators, the more we seek as a community to come alongside our teachers and choose to serve, support and celebrate these teachers, the more our community will thrive.
“As a community and re ally as a village together, we have to raise our children,” Cyril Jefferson concludes.
“You have our most valuable possession in your hands: our kids,” Paul Lessard, president of the High Point Community Foundation, charges teachers. “And it’s the sacred duty of every community to own their schools.”
At High Point Discovered, we too believe it’s our sacred duty to recognize the men and women who hold in their classrooms our city’s students. That’s why we are excited to introduce our Extraordinary Educators series! Over the next year, we will be featuring the 25 teachers chosen to represent their schools, sharing stories on who they are, how they lead, what inspires them, and why they love what they do. We hope you’ll share their stories with your communities to remind everyone of the people who may not always stand in the spotlight but always carry the light of education forward.
Because as Andrea Emmanuel so aptly put it, “We are growing future leaders of America. We are growing great, independent adults who will one day do the great things we’re doing.”
Discover our High Points,
The HP Discovered Team
Photography by Maria West Photography