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When I visited the Education Center @ Cropper on May 2, I chatted with a junior, Jose Menendez, about the online algebra course he was taking. He switched gears and reminded me that we first met when he was a student at Painted Stone Elementary. He vividly remembered the history lesson I shared about the Painted Stone settlement and even the rock painted red that I brought with me.
“You’re ‘Miss Bug,’ right?” he asked.
He was right.
I became “Miss Bug” about 1992, when Minnie Dale, Patty Davis and Sara Monarch asked me to be a volunteer writing coach at Southside Elementary. I was editor of The Sentinel-News then and loved my Friday mornings in the classrooms with students.
My classroom visits became more frequent 15 years ago when I became Miss Bug full-time, handling public relations for Shelby County Public Schools. When my retirement was recently announced, several teachers sent E-mails to recall their days as former Shelby County students and their encounters with Miss Bug.
Those comments are more gratifying than the paychecks I have received. I often told former superintendent Leon Mooneyhan that my job description may state my boss is the superintendent; however, in my heart, I worked for the students.
That is what I will miss, yet I take the memories with me.
Memories of when I had the honor of interviewing former students who dropped out to serve our country in World War II and returned to receive their high school diplomas as members of The Greatest Generation.
Memories of Skylar Thomas, then a 13-year-old at East Middle School, achieving her goal of visiting the Grand Canyon even though she is in a wheelchair.
Memories of becoming acquainted with a high school student who came from a homebound setting to become the first white student to wear the crown of Miss Kentucky State University, from which she graduated.
Superintendent James Neihof has consistently preached BIG Goals and example after example like these above show they can be achieved.
Take Saadya Marshall Walker.
He is a sophomore member of the Accelerated Academy at Shelby County High School. The program is by invitation only to those students who excel in academic benchmarks and other criteria. They take Advanced Placement courses with the same group of students throughout their high school career, ending with close to 50 college credit hours.
His elementary teachers at Fern Creek would be shocked.” It was chaotic,” he recalled. “I was always in fights for getting picked on. I had a short temper. I had no drive to do anything. If I wasn’t successful, I just wanted to quit.”
In the fourth grade, he moved to Simpsonville Elementary. “It wasn’t as bad. I got a little better. A lot of teachers encouraged me. So I wanted to do better,” he said.
However, he was “branded” – using his own words – for special education. “I had to carry around a clipboard to monitor my behavior. Everyone saw me as different,” he said.
He was placed in what he called “normal classes” at West Middle. By the eighth grade, Saadya knew to “ignore people. I was learning about my own character and living up to my own expectations.”
One expectation was even making the “initiative to draw out smiles from people. I sought out a Japanese exchange student because I knew she felt different, too.”
Saadya eventually realized overcoming his behavior issues put him on the path to success. The special education restrictions were lifted, he said. He smiled as he reported receiving Proficient and Distinguished on the former state assessment program called CATS (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System). He was even more proud to earn the right to enroll in the Accelerated Academy, in which he is above grade level in MAP (Measure of Academic Progress).
“Some of the classes are difficult and time-consuming, but I stay focused on my work, where before I would have slacked off,” he said.
Saadya said he knows how to ease his tension through creativity: writing songs, poems, stories and plays. He also knows from experience to share this advice with others, “Things may look bad now, but it will be better tomorrow,” he said.
His tomorrow goals are to publish a book and to become a physician.
Miss Bug believes he can do it.
Duanne B. Puckett is retiring May 31 as public relations coordinator of Shelby County Public Schools.