Four local educators were awarded 2020 Golden Apple Awards on Wednesday by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce in a ceremony at Joplin City Hall.
Recipients are Katherine Hargrove, of Jefferson Elementary School; Erin Snodgrass, of Cecil Floyd Elementary School; Darbi Stancell, of McAuley Catholic High School; and Tashena Vickers, of South Middle School.
It is the 35th year that the awards program has recognized excellence in the teaching profession. There were 131 educators in Joplin public and private schools nominated by students, parents and co-workers.
The nominations submitted tell the stories of the nominees.
A parent of a first grader nominated Snodgrass, writing, "She has helped encourage learning and task completion with our child. She truly made his first year of school, all-day school, enjoyable and fun."
She has been in the teaching profession 10 years.
"I wanted to be someone that was there for kids, someone to motivate them, someone to depend on and to count on and give them support," Snodgrass said of her reason for becoming a teacher.
After finding out she was to be recognized with the Golden Apple award, she said, "I was really shocked. It feels good, but I never feel like I'm more deserving than anyone is, but it's a good feeling and unexpected."
It was emotional for her to end the school year early because of the COVID-19 outbreak. "It was really hard. I didn't get to say goodbye" to the pupils, she said.
Hargrove's dedication to her fifth graders at Jefferson Elementary School inspired a parent to write a nomination of her that reads, "Her love and compassion she shares each day with her students is remarkable. It doesn't matter the situation, she will work to help students be successful. She goes above and beyond to make connections so they know she cares."
This was Hargrove's second year in teaching. She said she chose the field after working with youth while she was a student at Missouri Southern State University and developing relationships with teachers when she worked for a nonprofit.
"I feel very blessed that I have wonderful parents and kids who love my classroom and want to be there. I have a fantastic team at Jefferson who help me be a better teacher every day and so I wouldn't be here without them," Hargrove said.
When the school year ended abruptly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was upsetting, she said. "I teach fifth grade, so they go to middle school next year. It was heartbreaking to lose these last few months with them. They are our most fun months of the year because that's when we get to do field trips and fun projects, and you get to really see the fifth graders because (they are) their own little person."
To maintain contact and help the pupils prepare for middle school, she had check-ins every week and visited her students. "We tried to make the best of a bad situation, but it was heartbreaking to not get to finish the year with them in person, for sure," she said.
In a nomination of Vickers, a student wrote, "She is a positive influence on all of her students. In her class you can clearly see that she is passionate about what she does. She goes above and beyond her job requirements and helps all of her students be the best readers and people they can be."
She has been teaching 13 years and chose the profession because "I had some wonderful teachers in middle school who helped me out when I was struggling,and so I just knew from then on I wanted to be a middle school teacher to help other students who were struggling."
Vickers said she did not like having to end the school year early. "Not seeing my students was very hard. I got to see some of them on video chats, and we talked through email and phone calls, but it was nothing like seeing them in the classroom every day."
She said she didn't know whether the award made up for that disappointment, "but it definitely helped to not have the year end on such a sour note."
Stancell "makes math fun and explains in a way everyone understands. We look forward to her class every day," wrote a student who nominated her. "I understand math much better than I ever have."
Stancell retired from teaching after last school year, thinking she had ended a career of 30-plus years. But that lasted only a few weeks.
"Sixteen hours before the school year began at McAuley Catholic, I got a phone call, and God said, 'Do it.' And so I got hired at the last minute," she said. Returning to work has renewed her commitment to education. "I guess I'm supposed to be doing it, and I love it. I will be doing it for years," Stancell said.
Receiving the award was a surprise to Stancell. "I was very honored," she said. "I loved that my students nominated me. With the energy at the school now and the excitement we have going on, it's a great place to be. So this is icing on the cake."