STUTTGART -- Meghan Ables' fellow teachers at Stuttgart High School used a fairly simple ruse to help surprise her with the 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Award on Monday afternoon.
Only co-workers and administrators were in on the scheme, which was billed as a safety seminar.
But the secret quickly came out when Gov. Asa Hutchinson began telling students and faculty members who packed into the high school gymnasium about Ables' background. Because Ables already had been named a finalist for the award, everyone there knew it was hers before the governor could finish.
Loud cheers broke out as Ables cupped her face with her hands and cried. She approached Hutchinson, shook his hand and briefly hugged him as the cheers grew louder.
"Oh my goodness!" Ables exclaimed into the microphone. "That is about all I can think to say about this right now. This is unbelievable. The good Lord put me in this job, and I try to see all of my students through God's eyes. This is a school that I love, and I just want to thank my fellow teachers for this honor."
Ables, who follows Ouida Newton -- a math teacher at Poyen High School -- as the state's teacher of the year, will receive $14,000 and a year's sabbatical from the classroom. She also will serve as an ex officio member of the Arkansas Board of Education and travel the state to speak to teachers and students.
She will compete for National Teacher of the Year honors in Washington, D.C., later this year.
During a short speech, Hutchinson told the crowd, "We have all been impacted by dedicated teachers during our lifetime. They inspired us and kept us in the game. But some stand out more than others. Some are exceptional and more inspirational to students. They do more, they want more, they love more. That is why we are here today, to honor such a teacher."
Johnny Key, Arkansas' commissioner of education, asked everyone at the event to "reflect on a teacher who has meant a lot to you and who prepared you for success. Good teachers do that."
Ables, a teacher for going on 13 years, earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Arkansas State University. She teaches in her hometown and at her alma mater as the result of going through the state's nontraditional teacher licensure program.
At Stuttgart High, she teaches English and journalism. She re-established the school's monthly magazine, The Bird Banner, which is written by her students. She also is behind efforts to put into operation the new Ricebird Television studio at the school.
To end Monday's ceremony, Stuttgart School District Superintendent Nathan Gills handed Ables a bouquet of roses, thanked her for her service and said the district was "super proud" of her.
Afterward, dozens of students rushed around Ables, who appeared like a celebrity among a scrum of photographers with bright flashbulbs popping all around her. Many students screamed her name, others giggled and hooted with their hands cupped around their mouths.
During the frenzy, Stuttgart High School junior RicQuana Hampton proudly claimed to be Ables' "favorite student," though, to hear Ables tell it, all of them are.
"She is just such a great person and a great teacher," Hampton said. "I am just so excited for her. I can't believe it."
Armani Stewart, also a junior, said he enjoys Ables' classes and appreciates all she has done for his education.
"She's been an inspiration to a lot of us," he said. "We are happy for her."
Fellow teacher and literacy coach Marsha Saul described Ables as "always being her best for her students. She fosters relationships with each of her kids and cares about them. When they know she cares, they do their best for her."
The award for teacher of the year had been culled to four finalists before Monday's announcement. The others were: Brenda Galliher, an eighth-grade science teacher at Nashville Junior High; Stephanie Goodman, a sixth-grade math teacher at Hot Springs Intermediate School; and Michael Rogers, a ninth-through-12th-grade agriculture teacher at Siloam Springs High School.
State Desk on 12/08/2015
Print Headline: Teacher of the year named