When Ashley McClelland was a child, she'd sit in her bedroom and pretend she was a teacher, with her stuffed animals as her students.
“I'd play games with them, sit on the carpet and read read books with them,” she said. “It's definitely been a dream come true.”
McClelland's lifelong passion for teaching was recognized on Dec. 13 when the first grade teacher at Northeast Elementary School was named the Golden Apple Teacher for December.
“It was something I was not expecting, since I'm a young teacher,” said McClelland, a native of Lauderdale County who graduated from Southeast Lauderdale High School in 2011.
“I started to tear up when I saw my family walk in,” she said. “I had no idea that this was happening and it was just an overwhelming feeling of joy and shock.”
McClelland began her career in the Quitman Public School District before coming to Northeast Elementary this school year.
McClelland was nominated for the award by a parent of one of the students. The nomination said that McClelland goes above and beyond as a teacher because she makes sure to communicate with parents and makes sure her students feel loved.
The parent wrote that McClelland helped her daughter move from the bottom reading level in kindergarten to the top reading level in first grade.
McClelland said her definition of a Golden Apple teacher is someone who has a passion for teaching and gives their all to their students.
Showing compassion is what drives her to come to work every day, said McClelland, who described the school as a safe place.
“I feel like a lot of students need to come to a place like a school, so they can feel loved,” she said.
Her biggest joy, McClelland said, is seeing students who are struggling at the beginning of the year succeeding in the end.
“It makes me so happy because I can see how much the student has grown and matured,” she said. “I can see they are capable of meeting their challenges. They just need a little push.”
McClelland said teaching first grade is her calling because she gets to read to her students and also gets to be a role model.
“The students come and they might be having a rough home life or might be having a rough day," she said. "My job as their teacher is to make sure they are on the right foot.”
McClelland credited her teachers for her success in the classroom.
“Having those teachers that impacted me through high school, shaped me to be the teacher I am today,” she said.
McClelland’s father, Sephus Garrett, said he was proud of her not just for winning the award, but because he knows how hard she works.
“We knew she would do well and be such a great teacher,” he said. “She truly is passionate about teaching kids and it's fun to watch her because it's very genuine.”
In the long run, McClelland wants to continue making the lives of her students better.
“I feel like students need teachers that will motivate them to want them to come to school,” she said.
The Golden Apple Award
McClelland received a Golden Apple Teacher of the Month Certificate, a $300 cash award, and a $1,000 continuing education voucher for MSU-Meridian, and $1,300 in school supplies.
The presenting sponsor for December was Woodstock Furniture.
The eight monthly winners will be invited to the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year banquet and that winner will receive a special award on stage (The Meridian Star article), a custom-made Teacher of the Year Trophy, $2,500 cash to be used at their discretion and a $2,500 scholarship to be awarded to a deserving student in the teacher’s name.
Meridian Community College is the title sponsor. Golden Apple Award Partners in Education key sponsors are The Meridian Star, The Meridian Family of Stations Bounce TV and MeTV of Meridian, EMEPA, Mississippi Power, Citizens National Bank, Mississippi State University-Meridian, Avery Products, Woodstock Furniture. Participating sponsors are Meridian Coca-Cola Bottling, Labiche Jewelers, and College Savings Mississippi.
How to nominate an educator
Nominations for the monthly Golden Apple Award can be submitted by parents, faculty, or community members as well as past or present students. Candidates must be a current, full-time, faculty member in Pre-K through 12th grade (public or private) and work in the following counties: Lauderdale, Neshoba, Kemper, Clarke, and Newton in Mississippi; and Choctaw and Sumter in Alabama.
The nomination process consists of an essay (no more than 500 words) detailing why the person should be considered for the award. Nomination details and an entry form are available online at www.goldenappleawards.com.