Beaumont A&M Club honors four area educators

Beaumont A&M Club honors four area educators

If “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” as human rights activist Nelson Mandela fervently proclaimed, then students of Beaumont are well on their way to being empowered beyond expectation thanks to the dedication and service of classroom teachers who give of themselves above and beyond what is required to earn a mere paycheck. Four such educators were honored for their mission, inspiring a culture of learning in Beaumont’s youth, at the Beaumont A&M Club 55th annual Outstanding Classroom Teacher Awards held Tuesday, Sept. 23.

At a celebration held in their honor at the Parish Hall of St. Jude Catholic Church, the four educators were heralded for their efforts in the field of education. Beaumont A&M Club’s Classroom Teacher Awards chairman Michael Wolf said the honorees were nominated by their fellow teachers “for inspiring and educating the future leaders of this community.” Each award recipient received a certificate of recognition, a $200 check from the John K. Mattingly Memorial Fund, and an engraved silver tray.

“The Beaumont A&M Club has been honoring outstanding Beaumont teachers continuously for 55 years. Even when there was a hurricane, we just changed the date and did not miss honoring the teachers,” Wolf said. “We have always felt that teachers deserved recognition. They are responsible for the future day in and day out, and often those nights and days merge…

“Our teachers are responsible for teaching our children who are our future leaders, doctors, soldiers, laborers, attorneys, teachers, accountants and parents. And, with this much responsibility, they need to be recognized.”

Texas A&M alum Becky Ames, Beaumont’s mayor, served as the guest speaker at the event, imparting words of wisdom, more than a few laughs, and a hearty “gig ‘em” spirit that permeated the room.

Honorees Alisha Owens of Jones Clark Elementary, Laura Shelton of Vincent Middle School, Kelli Rachelle Mahan of Monsignor Kelly High School, and Joy Schwartz of West Brook High School were all on hand to accept their awards, as their biggest fans and sponsors of the event showed their support.

Honoree Alisha Owens, a 24-year veteran of the field, teaches first grade at Jones-Clark Elementary, where she is Grade Level chairperson, Student Council sponsor, and a member of District Educational Improvement Committee. Owens is a product of the Beaumont Independent School District she now teaches in, graduating in 1984 from West Brook High School with involvement in Student Council, STARS Drill Team, Spanish Club, and the Forest Park and Hebert High School merging student-included committee to her credit. Keeping up the momentum, Owens enrolled in Lamar University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education four year years after graduating high school.

In 1988, fresh out of college, Owens was already a testament to her chosen profession, honored as Student Teacher of the Year. But she didn’t just start off with a bang; she continued to excel over time, earning certifications in Reading, Dyslexia and Supervising Teacher. Among the honors that she has received for outstanding performance in educating Beaumont’s youth are the Good Apple Award (2008) and the Outstanding School Volunteer at West Brook High School Award (2012-2013).

One of the most prized awards afforded to Owens, however, is the excited smiles given to her by her students in her labor of love of organizing unique celebrations for the elementary campus’ Red Ribbon Week, a program that informs and educates children about the dangers of drugs. One year, Owens organized a human sign made from 350 fourth and fifth grade students across the football field spelling out the words, “SAY NO.” She also arranged for the sheriff to fly over and photograph the students.

“It had a huge impact on our campus and left the children asking, ‘What are we going to spell next year?’” she said. Then, as Student Council sponsor, she coordinated a food drive for the needy families that attend Jones-Clark Elementary, and it too will become a tradition at Jones-Clark Elementary, she says.

“I truly believe that my role as an educator is to not only provide my children with a quality education but to fill them with the emotion of caring,” Owens says. “In so many cases, our children come to school lacking the skills for reading, math, science and all the basic subjects. They also are lacking the social skills they need in life. If I can instill in their little minds the confidence they need to be successful, then I have been successful as well. ... My hope is to give them pride in their culture, social graces to accept defeat, skills to accomplish a quality education, and the ability of give love to one another. I truly believe that at some point in their life they will recall their time in my classroom and it will make them smile.”

Honoree Laura Shelton, a teacher for 17 years, is currently teaching seventh grade mathematics at Vincent Middle School, where she is the UIL General Mathematics Coach, a member of the Campus Educational Improvement Committee, a member of the UIL Steering Committee, and a member of the Mathematics Curriculum Writing Team for BISD. Teaching isn’t just a Monday through Friday, eight-hour-a-day job for Shelton, though, who also helps with math tutorials and Saturday School programs, both of which offer extra assistance to students struggling to pass the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standardized tests. Shelton, too, went to Beaumont schools, graduating Cum Laude from West Brook High School in 1991 Laura graduated, then attending Lamar University where she graduated with degree in Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1996.

Shelton started her teaching career slightly outside the Houston city limits, teaching sixth grade science and eighth grade mathematics in 1997 at Humble Middle School. By 1998, however, Shelton made her way back to Beaumont, joining the faculty of Vincent Middle School where she has served the students as a cheerleading coach and as a faculty advisor for the National Junior Honor Society, among many other roles. Holding certifications in Elementary Self-Contained Grades 1-8, Elementary Mathematics Grades 1-8, and Gifted and Talented, Shelton uses her credentials to guide sixth-grade math and science students and eighth-grade math students to pass TEKS. To accomplish this, Shelton uses technology, modeling and repetition, and she is known to give her students unique, fun challenges, leading to success on the Math STAAR Exam.

“For 80 percent passing, I would dye my hair hot pink and black,” Shelton said of one such student challenge. “Throughout the year, my students would tell me I should get ready because ‘I was going down.’ I would laugh and encouraged them to bring it on. For the days when my students were not focused, I grabbed my hair and started singing, ‘Can’t touch this.’ They laughed and regrouped for the lesson. Their testing day approached and passed. Once the results were available, I realized my students had surpassed their goal; however, I could not tell my students their results until the following Monday. Over the weekend, my stylist dyed my hair hot pink and black. When the students entered school on Monday, they were surprised and elated that I kept my promise and I was proud to honor my students’ accomplishments.”

Lessons students can relate to are what Shelton says works the best.

“For students to gain mathematical knowledge, I use the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ approach, exchanging the role of teaching the problem from myself to my students,” she says. “While modeling and teaching, I relate the skills being taught to prior grade levels, explain the current skill the students are responsible for learning, use pictorial models where applicable, and try to relate the math skills to concepts they are exposed to in their own day-to-day lives. While this process helps most students to grasp the skills being taught, they will lose this knowledge if they are not allowed to continually practice these concepts.”

Honoree Kelli Rachelle Mahan, a teacher for 10 years, was nominated by her peers to receive the Beaumont A&M Club Outstanding Classroom Teacher Award while she was teaching English IV Regular and English II AP at Monsignor Kelly High School, but she has been recently promoted to assistant principal. As a teacher, Mahan not only served the students as a prized educator, but also served as UIL Ready Writing coach, National Honor Society sponsor, Literary Club sponsor, Green Team sponsor, English Department chairperson, and held posts on the Student Discipline, Student Recognition, and Long Range Planning committees.

Mahan didn’t graduate high school from Beaumont, but she wasn’t too far away, attending Vidor High School until 1988 when she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Her future accolades were foreshadowed in her high school career, where she was commended as a National Merit Scholar and earned Advanced Placement in English, Calculus, Spanish, Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science. She graduated Vidor High School with 16 hours of college credits and 12 years of perfect attendance, all while actively involved in the VHS Brigadettes, VHS Choir, Student Council (serving as president), Student Body (serving as treasurer), Key Club, National Honor Society, and Future Teachers of America.

Moving on from high school, Mahan continued to shine, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 2002 from the Honors Program at Louisiana State University where, as a recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship, she conducted research with professors and graduate students. By the time she Mahan earned her Master’s of Education from Lamar University in 2011, she had been teaching for seven years.

Mahan strives to extend student’s knowledge beyond the classroom, with her goal being to enhance not only the students’ academics, but also their character.

“Our students of today are our leaders of tomorrow, whom we are modeling and influencing even when we think they aren’t looking,” she says. “In addition to teaching our subject matter, we must strive to set positive examples of kindness, compassion, integrity and perseverance.

“In order for a classroom to exhibit an environment conducive to learning, I believe I must exhibit and encourage the following attributes: credibility, confidence and compassion.”

Honoree Joy Schwartz has been a teacher for 26 years, teaching at several Beaumont campuses including Vincent Middle School, Odom Academy, Ozen High School, and West Brook High School, teaching Fundamentals of Mathematics, Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Statistics, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Computer Math and Computer Science.

Schwartz has recently moved to a teaching post at Warren High School, but was nominated for the Outstanding Classroom Teacher Award by her peers at West Brook High School, where she taught Geometry and Pre-AP Computer Science and served as a sponsor for student-led organizations, including Interact, a group of students who support the service-above-self goals of Rotary International; the newly formed Engineering and Robotics Club; and the UIL Computer Science Team.

Schwartz’s educational background started in East Texas, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Lufkin High School in 1984, participating in National Honor Society, Future Farmers of America, FFA Forestry Team, Lufkin High School Band, All-Region Band and Junior Engineering Technical Society, to name just a few. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Education from East Texas Baptist University, along with certifications in mathematics and computer information systems. She was inducted into Alpha Chi Honor Society and was recognized every semester on Dean’s List. In 2012, Swartz earned her Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Sam Houston State in Huntsville. By that time, she had already been teaching since 1988.

“I believe that I have been ‘called’ to teach, and that my job is the most important one in the world,” Swartz says. “I have the opportunity to help young people set and reach their goals. Stephen Brookfield says, ‘Teaching is about making some kind of dent in the world so that the world is different than it was before you practiced your craft. Knowing clearly what kind of dent you want to make in the world means that you must continually ask yourself the most fundamental evaluative questions of all – What effect am I having on students and on their learning?’ And even after 26 years, I am still readjusting and perfecting my ‘craft.’ Learning never ceases for me.”

Swartz never ceases to teach, either, also serving Westgate Memorial Baptist Church on the Children’s Ministry Committee in addition to her classroom duties. Her commitment to education has earned her the PTA Good Apple Award and she is a recent graduate of Leadership Beaumont.