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December 23, 2012

A passion for teaching

MERIDIAN —     It takes a special person to teach kindergarten students and one such instructor has been singled out as the December recipient of the Golden Apple Award.

    Dawn Powell, a kindergarten teacher at Newton Municipal Elementary School, was surprised to learn that she had earned the award recently. The recognition comes with a Golden Apple trophy, a $300 cash prize, a $1,000 gift certificate for school supplies, and a chance to be named Golden Apple Teacher of the Year.

    Among those at a school assembly to honor Powell was State Sen. Terry Burton of Newton.

    "I went to school here a long time ago," Burton said. "I have loved this school for a long time and it's a real honor today because of Dawn's recognition. I recognize how hard it is for all of you teachers out there. My dad was a teacher, coach and administrator. I know exactly what you go through and I hope you understand that you do make a difference."

    Dan Reid, principal of Newton Elementary, said Powell loves her students.

    "She takes care of them just like they're her own and we really push for support of our students that need that extra attention," Reed said. "You have to have a passion for what you do because you're taking on babies at an early age that you have to teach and train. You have to love children."

    Fellow teacher and friend Gina Gordon nominated Powell because of her dedication to her students.

    "A  kindergarten teacher needs to be loving because kindergartners are a different type of student," Gordon said. "They come to school not only needing a teacher, they need a mother and a nurse. Ms. Powell is very loving. She's very motherly. When they need a hug, she hugs them."

    Powell worked as an assistant teacher in kindergarten for four years and has been a certified teacher for 16 years. She said she always believes in their abilities.

    "Every child can learn. You have different learning styles but you have to make sure you get the ones that struggle, just as well as you get the ones that are on the high end," Powell said. "They all can learn, they just learn at different levels."

    And, she says, teachers should show love to their students.

    "It may be the only love that they get," Powell said. "Show them how to act, manners, and things they need to know in the grown-up world."

    Over the years, kindergarten students have been expected to learn more skills, such as reading and math, she said.

    "It's a lot more structured and not as much play as it used to be," Powell said.

    Being a teacher was always a dream of hers, she said.

    "It really all started in the third grade when I went to school here," Powell said. "When I was in the third grade here at this school, I decided then that I wanted to teach."

    She decided to become an assistant first to determine if she really wanted to teach. After a few years, she was convinced it was the right move for her.

    "It's so rewarding to see where they are when they come and then when they leave, what they have learned and what they have accomplished. They're excited because they can read. They're excited because they can add."

    Powell was shocked when her name was called out as the teacher of the month at the assembly.

    "I just couldn't believe it. When they called my name out I was stunned because there are so many deserving teachers at the school," Powell said.

    To nominate a teacher, go to either or and click on the Golden Apple logo.

    One teacher will be awarded each month and a teacher of the year will be selected in May.

    Nominations can be submitted by parents, faculty, or community members as well as past and present students. Candidates must be a current, full-time, faculty member in a public or private school system working within the following counties: in Mississippi — Lauderdale, Neshoba, Kemper, Clarke, or Newton counties. In Alabama — Choctaw or Sumter counties.

    The nomination process consists of an essay of no more than 500 words detailing why the person should be considered for the Golden Apple Award.

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