The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 13, 2013

Mutual admiration: Academic Team members thank teachers for inspiration, drive

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Even though he dropped the egg, J.W. Keckley appreciated the chance to throw it.

The task was part of an assignment in Lori Good's gifted class at Carl Junction Junior High School when Keckley, now a senior, was in sixth grade. Students got to throw eggs into a sheet as part of a lesson.

Right before Keckley's release, the egg slipped out and made a mess on the floor. The rest of the class erupted in laughter.

But he remembered the event fondly, and pointed to it as a sign of how Good expressed her passion for teaching and made learning fun.

"The first time I went into her classroom, I saw how immensely devoted she was, for what she did for students," Keckley said. "What I got out of that is whatever I do with my life, I hope it's something I can be as passionate about as she is."

Members of The Joplin Globe's All-Area Academic Excellence Team thanked teachers for inspiring them to push themselves during a recognition banquet Monday at Missouri Southern State University.

The team's 22 members each chose a teacher who inspired their academic success the most. During the banquet, each team member and teacher spoke briefly about their time together in the classroom and the impact it had on one another.

"(Keckley) had a tremendous influence on me," Good said. "If you had any idea how much you influence us, it would amaze you."

Making the grade

Sponsored by MSSU, making the team is not easy to do. Featuring the best of the best students, the team is modeled after athletic teams that combine the best players from around the region.

Students make the team based on a score developed from a student's grade point average and ACT or SAT score. The formula used to pick winners ensures that top quality students make the team -- not just those who test well.

The formula is similar to one used by the Missouri Scholars 100 program. Monday marked the 27th year the Globe has named a team. Started by Ron Lankford in 1987 when he was the superintendent of the Webb City School District, the team is one of the longest-running programs of its kind in Missouri.

Lankford, now deputy commissioner for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, attended Monday's banquet -- despite announcing his retirement from it two years ago.

"I'm glad to stay unretired from this," he said.

In addition to the 22 team members, 21 other students were named to the team's honor roll.

Impressions made

Like Keckley, team members talked about how their chosen teachers helped form their identities.

Nathaniel Demery, also of Carl Junction, spoke about how Anne Nicolas enhanced his high school career, and said the best teachers are the ones who form relationships.

"I didn't know who I was or what I wanted to do," Demery said. "I've changed a lot. The way (Nicolas) has guided me changed me, and helped me become who I want to be."

Eliza Smith, of McDonald County High School, said that debate coach Tyler Davis looked past her shy exterior from the get-go. A new student in a small community during her freshman year, Smith said Davis helped her grow.

"I was really shy, but he looked past that and pushed me," Smith said. "I've learned something from every teacher I've had, but only he looked inside of me and saw what I could do."

In her fourth year of debate, she was chosen as president of the debate team. She said her speaking abilities will help her future career in nursing.

"Even though I won't be a lawyer, the communication skills I've learned can be applied to anything in life," she said.

Hunter Burrow, of Miami High School, said she remembered the first paper she gave to literature teacher Jamie Stephens as a junior. She got a C, and it crushed her.

"It made me want to cry," Burrow said. "But that told me she won't accept something that's average. She wants me to be a lot higher." Burrow said that Stephens' pushing led to her re-evaluating her intelligence for the better.

Bailey Jo Foster, of Parsons High School, was also pushed, she said. In Pam Rapalino's business law class, the two developed a bond over Foster's need to ask questions.

"Although the law is about exactness, she wanted us to get the ethics and morals," Foster said. "She told me a lot of things I didn't want to hear, but needed to."

Respect earned

As much as students felt enervated by their teachers, the feeling was mutual.

Stephens said that Burrow is with a group of students that is OK with mediocrity -- but instead of sinking to their level, Burrow has risen to the top.

"They are lovely people, and they are frustrating to death," Stephens said. "But instead of allowing her peers to move her down, she has continued to rise to the top."

Stephens praised Burrow's brilliance and said she was the reason the school has remained a lighthouse school in the state of Oklahoma.

In regards to Demery, Nicolas said she watched him become one of the school's most respected students, and appreciated his taste in literature.

"He loves the bizarre. The weirder, the better," Nicolas said. "The highlight of his life was when he tweeted that he had just finished reading everything Chuck Palahniuk wrote, and Chuck retweeted him."

Pamela Green, a teacher at College Heights Christian School, had Joshua Brehm in several of her classes throughout his education, beginning with an eighth-grade algebra class. Though Green appreciated him as a student, she was more inspired to see him work as a tutor.

Brehm is so good at interacting with students, she said, that his kindness and graciousness is a blessing to watch.

"I've asked the kids if they liked him, and they said that (Brehm) treats them like a real person, that he doesn't talk down to them," Green said. "I feel bad for his mother, because she would love to see what I get to see."

Many of the teachers said these students helped make them better at their jobs. Sue Stratton said that was the case for Webb City High School student Matthew Reynolds.

"He would be done with math extensions by the time class was over," Stratton said. "He extended me in figuring out how to extend him."