By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Children with extraordinary gifts need an extraordinary teacher, so when teachers at Northeast Lauderdale Middle School saw a chance to honor one of their own, they nominated Debbie Wedgeworth, who teaches fifth and sixth grade gifted students.
On Wednesday Wedgeworth was surprised to learn that she was named the February Golden Apple Teacher of the Month. She was nominated by several of her colleagues at Northeast Middle School.
Participating sponsors of the Golden Apple Award read nomination letters and make the selection. The winner gets a "Golden Apple" trophy and a voucher for $1,000 in school supplies, a $300 check and the chance to be named the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year in May. The winner also will have the opportunity to nominate a graduating senior for a scholarship.
The 26-year teaching veteran is the second from her school to win the Golden Apple. Pre-algebra teacher Kathy Moody was awarded the Golden Apple in November. Billy Burnham, principal, said he is proud of all of his teachers.
"We have a great teaching staff here. I tell people all the time that I'm most fortunate that I have the best set of teachers in this area," Burnham said. "Mrs. Wedgeworth loves what she does. Mrs. Wedgeworth is a true professional. She carries herself in a professional manner at all times. She always takes adverse situations and handles them well."
Wedgeworth humbly accepted the award, saying she didn't feel she deserved it as much as other teachers in her school.
"It's just amazing to have something like this. I know that I love what I do; I love my kids, but to have other people realize that I really love my kids means something special," Wedgeworth said.
She said she tries to instill in each of her students the knowledge that they can do anything.
"I tell them that you cut yourself short if you don't try," Wedgeworth said. "You never know what you can do if you don't try."
She began her career in education as an assistant teacher at Northeast Elementary School. Wedgeworth later returned to college and earned a teaching degree.
Her first job as a certified teacher was at Carver Middle School as a gifted teacher. She soon learned that teaching the gifted is different.
"We're not always teaching them," she said. "We introduce things to them. We get them interested in something and we kind of guide them along. A lot of it is left up to them as to what they are going to explore themselves."
Just because her students are gifted, some people think her job must be easy.
"The fact is, with gifted children, you have to be on top of things," Wedgeworth said. "Many times, I'll be honest, they know more than I do on a subject. If I don't know something, I'll say let's learn this together."
Gifted children have their own set of struggles.
"They have their share of problems just like any other child," Wedgeworth said. "Nobody is perfect and we all have things we have to work on. As a gifted teacher, you have to take all into account just like in a regular classroom. You have to take the entire child into account and see what that individual child needs."
Wedgeworth has a pet name for all her students — she refers to them as her "Knot-heads." In fact, while out shopping recently she was approached by a tall, adult man whom she did not immediately recognize. He said "Mrs. Wedgeworth? Am I still your knot-head?"
"I said, baby, once you're my knot-head you're always my knot-head,' she said.
There are likely dozens of knot-heads out there relieved to hear it.
To nominate a teacher, go to either meridianstar.com or wgbctv.com and click on the Golden Apple logo.
One teacher will be awarded each month and a teacher of the year will be selected in May.
Nominations can be submitted by parents, faculty, or community members as well as past and present students. Candidates must be a current, full-time, faculty member in a public or private school system who are working within the following counties: in Mississippi — Lauderdale, Neshoba, Kemper, Clarke, or Newton counties. In Alabama — Choctaw and Sumter counties.
The nomination process consists of an essay of no more than 500 words detailing why the person should be considered for the Golden Apple Award.