School District honors teachers, staff
by The Press and Standard | September 6, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: September 5, 2018 at 8:37 am
What do an elementary school teacher with 25 years experience, a member of the school district’s support staff for 10 years and a high school teacher entering her sophomore season have in common?
All three were honored prior to the start of this school year.
Wendy L. Strickland, who has been at Forest Hills Elementary for 24 of her 25 years in the teaching profession, was named the Colleton County School District’s Teacher of the Year.
Brandon Williams, Northside Elementary School’s positive behavior support specialist, was recognized as the school district’s Support Employee of the Year.
Kelly Villwock, who spent the last school year teaching at Colleton County High School, was presented the district’s Rookie Teacher of the Year award.
All three were recognized at the school district’s kick-off program on Aug. 17.
Strickland, who teachers fourth graders at Forest Hills Elementary School, graduated from Charleston Southern University with a bachelor of science in elementary education.
Growing up, Strickland never considered anything else for her life’s work.
“When I was little, I would play school all the time at home. I had imaginary children I would teach and remember enjoying pretending to watch them learn,” Strickland said.
As a student, she sat in the classrooms of teachers “that inspired me to want to be like them.”
Her desire turned into a passion when she was asked to substitute in Sunday school when she was young. She enjoyed interacting with the younger children and liked watching them learn and be interested in learning new things.
During her first year in college, she worked in the learning center at her alma mater. That, she said, “sealed the deal.”
Forest Hills Elementary School Principal Matthew Brantley sees the results of Strickland’s dedication daily. “Ms. Strickland is an amazing person. She has a way with her students that allows them to grow in so many ways. She makes Forest Hills a better place each day,” he said.
The students aren’t the only ones learning in the classroom, Strickland said. “I am a better teacher each day because, whether they realize it or not, I am learning from them, making me a better educator. I need my students just as much as they need me.
“I believe that laughter and humor adds to my lessons. My teaching style is relaxed and comfortable and I love to laugh with my children, this helps engage them in my lessons in many ways,” according to Strickland.
“As teaching has changed over the 25 years I have taught, a good education is still the driving force of success. I know I cannot make my children’s destiny for them, but I can give them a small piece of what they need in life’s journey by being an effective teacher.”
Her reward comes from “seeing my children become successful lifelong learners.”
Prior to becoming Northside’s positive behavior support specialist, Williams was a tutor and mentor in SC GEAR UP and served as a shadow for an autistic student until the student graduated.
A graduate of Colleton County High School, Williams has also done coursework at USC-Salkehatchie.
In addition to his work with the school district, Williams volunteers to provide care for the elderly, speaks to different youth groups and churches and is a youth leader at his church.
“The most important part of my job is my level of availability to the children. With the principals’ and teachers’ permission, our children are able to come see me at different times, whether it’s good or bad, and we are able to sit, talk and work through problems.”
That level of intervention, Williams said, results in problems — that loom large in the eyes of children — shrink. “With redirection, their days can remain productive and they can accomplish their task-learning.”
“Creativity is what I love most about my job,” Brandon said. He said he was given the freedom to find and implement solutions that prove effective in supporting the students and staff. “The greatest reward is hearing the testimony from a child saying ‘You’ve inspired me’ or ‘I’m doing just what you told me’.”
Williams said that his work with the students of Northside Elementary is a form of paying it forward.
“I reflect on the problems that I faced at their age and how I felt alone until someone showed me they cared. It is important for me to be that person to someone fighting to find their way,” Williams said.
The Colleton County School District’s Rookie Teacher of the Year didn’t really consider teaching as a career until her final year at the University of South Carolina.
Kelly Villwock was finishing her course work for a degree in political science when she became interested in Teach for America, a national program that for 25 years has been bringing people with degrees in other fields and experience in other occupations to the teaching profession.
“I have changed what I wanted to be when I grew up like 50 times,” Villwock explained. She thought about getting a law degree, she thought about graphic arts. “I was kind of all over the place.”
It turned out education was a good fit. “I am really happy doing what I am doing right now.”
The Teach for America program brought Villwock to Colleton County High School and she spent her first year as a special education teacher at the high school.
The school district asked for recommendations for the rookie of the year consideration from every school in the district.
Villwock said she was surprised that she was chosen to receive the honor. “I think your first year feels so overwhelming and chaotic,” she said.
It was her students, she said, who played a major role in helping her navigate her rookie year.
Because she was new to teaching, new to Colleton County High School, she said, she relied on her students to guide her, allowing her to learn more about their lives.
Each school day, Villwock said, she came to school with the “perspective of wanting to learn as much as possible because it was necessary. It allowed me to rely on students.”
This year, Villwock is teaching social studies at the high school: geography, government and economics.
“It was a big switch. I wanted to do something that aligned more with my major.”
“I really like it so far,” Villwock said. “I like it because I am a giant nerd about that kind of stuff.
“It is really fun seeing students develop an interest in a certain subject,” she said. “It is nice to know that informed citizens will get sent out into the world.”