With maps of Mississippi and the United States plastered on the walls of her classroom, Amy Grady starts each day with a prayer.
As she watches her students walk into the building, Grady reflects on her long journey to the classroom.
“When I was in school, I didn’t want to be a teacher,” she said. "But thinking back, I liked Mississippi History and I liked that class. I'm glad that I have an opportunity to teach that.”
Grady, an eighth-grade social studies at Magnolia Middle School, is the Meridian Public School District's teacher of the year. She's spent her entire 16-year career at the school.
“This is the only place I've been, so I love middle school,” she said.
The Meridian native attended Poplar Springs Elementary School, Magnolia Middle School, and Meridian High School.
After working in insurance for 25 years, Grady made a career change in 2005, working as a substitute teacher at Magnolia. She was encouraged by an educator at the school to consider teaching as a career.
“There was a principal here (at Magnolia) that encouraged me to go back to school,” she said. Her first teaching role was as an assistant teacher. She went back to school, majoring in secondary education.
When she was going to school, Grady was interested in Mississippi history, especially the Civil War and the civil rights movement. She tries to pass that interest along to her students.
“I think the students should know about Mississippi,” she said.
While some students consider her tough, Grady says she does it out of love. If her students don't understand something, she groups them together so they can help each other. She also helps her students during an elective period and after school.
“In the long run, they appreciate the fact that I push them to the limit,” she said.
Grady, Magnolia's teacher of the year for the past three years, said she was speechless when her name was called for the district award.
“To be named teacher of the year for the whole district, I was shocked because there are so many outstanding teachers in the Meridian Public School District,” she said.
Summer Bridges, an eighth grade and language arts teacher at Magnolia, met Grady when both were teaching seventh grade.
“She's one of the reasons I've stayed here and not searched for anything else, because one of the things she does is put Magnolia first,” Bridges said, noting that Grady often goes out her way to support her students.
“Everything she does is for the students,” Bridges said. “I think that when they see that, they know she cares.”
Looking ahead, Grady said she will keep teaching as long as she can.
“It's because of the kids and the students,” she said. "You have to love what you do, and teaching is my joy. I love coming here and I love teaching the students."