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China Grove’s April Williamson named teacher of the year

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
When a parakeet belonging to one of April Williamson’s students died a few years ago, Williamson got a phone call about it.
It was about 9:30 p.m. ó which, for a teacher, might as well be the middle of the night, Williamson said.
But she didn’t mind. Her heart broke for her student.
“She was so upset,” Williamson said.
That kind of ongoing compassion and after-hours willingness to help surely played a part in Williamson’s selection as this year’s teacher of the year.
The Rowan Chamber of Commerce honors a teacher each year.
Williamson has taught third-graders at China Grove Elementary for eight years. It’s where she started her teaching career.
Hers is a 21st Century Classroom, which means Williamson has integrated technology into her lessons. Each student has a laptop computer in the classroom, and they also have iPods, a camcorder and a digital camera to use.
In the long run, having a high-tech classroom might increase test scores. But too much focus is placed on end-of-grade tests, Williamson said. The true measure of a successful teacher, she said, is if students thank their teacher.
While Williamson has been a successful educator, she wasn’t always such a fortunate student. During childhood, she attended about a half-dozen elementary schools because her family moved a lot, she said.
Her family situation was less than ideal, Williamson said. As a child, her parents weren’t involved in her life.
She ended up at South Rowan High School, where she graduated in 1997. There, Williamson said, she had a mentor, which made all the difference.
Gerri Blackwelder encouraged her to succeed, Williamson said.
This award is proof that she’s done just that, Williamson said.
“All the hours I’ve put in, this is the payoff,” she said.
While Williamson has provided kind words to students in times of dead birds and other minor tragedies, she’s also been a friend during more serious situations.
A few years ago, the teenage brother of one of her students died in a car accident, Williamson said. The student called her and asked if she’d meet the family at the hospital.
She did.
“The family has become a big part of my life,” she said.
Teaching isn’t just her job, Williamson said. It’s also her identity.
Williamson took over the teacher-of-the-year title from Janice Raper, last year’s winner.
Raper was also named the regional teacher of the year for the 2007-2008 school year and was hoping to win the statewide title earlier this week.
She didn’t get that honor, but Raper, a teacher at Hurley Elementary, said she has had an amazing experience.
“I have never been treated so royally throughout the whole year,” Raper said, donning a tiara in beauty-pageant fashion.
“I have felt like Miss America, so now it’s time to pass the torch,” Raper said.
For winning, Williamson was awarded $1,000 from the Chamber of Commerce to be used for classroom technology. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education also awarded her $1,000 for technology, along with a laptop computer and a printer.
She also received a scholarship to attend a state education seminar.
Dwayne Fink, a math teacher and coach at Jesse Carson High School, was named the runner-up.
The other finalists were Kathy Haynes of Erwin Middle, Jennifer Nelson of Woodleaf Elementary, Cheryl Owen of Rockwell Elementary and Darrin Turner of North Rowan Middle.
Contact Sarah Nagem at snagem@salisburypost.com or 704-797-7683.

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