2 receive Teachers With Heart Award

Chelsea Verdier, left, a special-education teacher at Northside Elementary School in Cabot, and Kim Usery, a chemistry teacher at Cabot High School, were the recipients of 2016 Teachers With Heart Awards.
Chelsea Verdier, left, a special-education teacher at Northside Elementary School in Cabot, and Kim Usery, a chemistry teacher at Cabot High School, were the recipients of 2016 Teachers With Heart Awards.

CABOT — Two Cabot Public Schools teachers have shown exceptional commitment to their students, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

At the district’s end-of-the-year meeting Thursday, the Cabot Classroom Teacher Association awarded Northside Elementary School special-education teacher Chelsea Verdier and Cabot High School chemistry teacher Kim Usery with 2016 Teachers With Heart Awards. The awards recognize two district teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in and out of the classroom.

Twelve finalists were chosen out of 300 nominated teachers, and one secondary teacher and one elementary-school teacher are given the award each year. The other elementary finalists were Jana Foster, Stagecoach Elementary School; Laura Harris, Magness Creek Elementary School; Melissa Lashbrook, Southside Elementary School and Northside Elementary; Adrienne Thomas, Eastside Elementary School; and Karen Turner, Northside Elementary. The other secondary finalists were Laura Abbot, Cabot Freshman Academy; Kasey Hill, Cabot Freshman Academy; Sara Hillenburg, Cabot High School; Hannah Sawyer, Cabot Junior High School South; and Jamie Layes-Shelton, Cabot Freshman Academy.

The Teachers With Heart Award was established three years ago by the Cabot Classroom Teacher Association, an Arkansas Education Association affiliate that provides Cabot teachers with guidance and professional development.

“About three years ago, it kind of came to my mind that our teachers don’t get recognized for things that they do, so I went to Dr. [Tony] Thurman, our superintendent, and I said, ‘Is there something we can do? How can we partner and do this?’” said CTA President Pam Sowell.

Teachers are anonymously nominated by students, parents and other teachers, who write letters on the nominees’ behalf. Two panels of judges — one consisting of CTA members and the other consisting of members of the school board, Centennial Bank and retired teachers — help choose the finalists and winners. Winners receive a banner, a plaque and check for $300.

Verdier teaches nine third- and fourth-graders and has been a teacher for four years. She said winning a Teachers With Heart Award was a humbling, overwhelming experience.

“Being a teacher, you wear so many hats,” she said. “I’m a counselor. I’m a nurse. I’m a teacher. I’m their friend. I think being a teacher these days, you’re more than just at the front of the classroom. You’re a part of their everyday life.”

Verdier said her $300 prize will most likely go back into the classroom. She plans to purchase wobble chairs for her students so they can stay active while seated. She said the award is dedicated to teachers who put their all into the district and into the classroom.

“I just love my kids like they’re my own,” she said.

Sowell said the award is geared toward teachers who go beyond all expectations. One nominated teacher once had a student who was troubled and had moved to several different classrooms.

“She got down on the floor, and she said to him, ‘What can I do for you?’ He said, ‘I need a shower, and I want to look like everyone else,’” she said.

The teacher helped the student get a hair cut and clean clothes, which contributed to a positive change in his behavior.

“Most of the nominations that we get are things like that, where teachers have reached out to a child individually or reached out to a parent and said, ‘What can we do to help your child?’ It really is from the heart,” Sowell said.

Although Usery has been a Cabot High School teacher for 19 years, she does work outside of the classroom by holding science nights at the elementary schools. This year, she held 15 science nights, which include science-focused activities.

She said that early on in her career, she focused on just teaching science. Now she focuses on loving the kids first and providing a safe environment so that everything else can fall into place.

“I like teaching kids who come into my class and say they hate science or they’re not good at science, but I do a lot of labs and activities with them. My goal is when they get the wow factor and they say, ‘I’m not real good at science, but I love this class,’” said Usery, who teaches juniors and seniors.

Usery cited her teaching approach as the reason why she was a recipient of a 2016 Teachers With Heart Award.

“I like to invest me as a person into these kids’ lives, and it just makes me [become] a better teacher,” she said.

Usery said the best part of the process was receiving letters of support from the students and parents, which she wasn’t able to read until the day she received the award.

“Just to get that letter of support from someone is really better than any award I could get,” she said.

Usery said being a teacher requires a desire to be in the classroom every day and a love for kids.

“I really appreciate the CTA for doing this because a lot of times, we work really hard, and the teachers don’t get acknowledged,” she said. “We have a really good district; there’s a lot of fabulous teachers here. It’s nice to know that the kids care about you.”

Staff writer Syd Hayman can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or shayman@arkansasonline.com.

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