Koontz teacher eyes Mrs. North Carolina title

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Lindsay Merritt has been competing in pageants since before she started kindergarten.
But none of them have had as much meaning as the one she’ll be part of June 4.
Merritt, the current Mrs. Southern Piedmont, will join contestants from across the state to compete for the title of Mrs. North Carolina.
A second-grade teacher at Koontz Elementary School, she decided to enter the pageant after browsing the website.
“You have to be actively involved in the community so I thought it would be a good way to get the organizations that I work with out in the open,” she said.
Merritt currently volunteers with Relay for Life, the Make a Wish Foundation, Hope Cancer Ministries, the March of Dimes and Prevent Child Abuse Rowan.
She has extended her volunteer efforts to include her students by launching a card drive through the American Red Cross to send to soldiers at Christmas.
“I try to do a community project each year with the kids here so they can get an idea that there are people worse off than they are,” Merritt said. “I think it’s very important to realize that they can make a difference.”
Donna Girty, a teacher assistant at Koontz, said her son, Tore, recently expressed his gratitude to the children and Merritt during a video chat while being stationed in Korea.
“He told them how much he and the other troops appreciate the cards and how much it encouraged them,” Donna Girty said.
Merritt’s strong sense of community service propelled her back into the pageant world, but education has taken center stage this time.
“I’ve always been really big into community and advocating for children’s rights and public education, especially now,” she said.
Her platform for the pageant is “Giving Every Child a Chance.”
“As a teacher and a mother myself I really wanted to focus on children,” Merritt said. “I feel that children are our future … we need to provide quality education for them.
“As a community we need to raise up our children.”
Merritt, whose husband is Andrew, said if she wins the pageant it will open up doors for her to travel the state advocating for public education.
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Although she’s staying busy preparing for the pageant and fulfilling her volunteer duties, Merritt said her top priority is still her students at Koontz.
“This is my No. 1 job. I don’t think about anything else when I’m here,” she said. “I’m exhausted all the time. Once I leave school, I go to work with my organizations. It’s just one thing after another.”
Merritt said she’s wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.
“I remember when I was five years old and I was in a pageant and they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a teacher, president of the United States or a princess,” she said. “I remember having stuffed animals in my room and teaching them.”
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Merritt began her teaching career in Union County. She also taught in Franklin County before landing in Rowan.
Although Merritt lives in Charlotte, she ended up at Koontz because of her passion for reaching out to disadvantaged students.
“I wanted to teach at a Title I school because I feel like these children need me the most,” she said. “When I saw this opening I came right here. I knew this is where I needed to be.”
Nicki Koziarz, Merritt’s small group leader at Elevation Church, described her as compassionate.
“She’s got a really tender heart for people who are hurting,” she said.
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Merritt said she feels her experience as a teacher and a mother to 1-year-old daughter Lilly Drew give her the right perspective to be an advocate for children.
“I have firsthand knowledge of exactly what’s going on,” she said. “I see exactly what they need, what they are struggling with, what they don’t have at home that we can give them here (at school.”
Koziarz said being part of the pageant is a way for her to reach out to others about issues that are important to her.
“This is just another way for her to use her passion,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing.”
Merritt whether she wins or loses she’ll continue her work to better the lives of children.
“It’s not just a platform for me, it’s my life, this is what I do,” she said.
Contact Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.