It isn’t easy being a kindergartner these days, at a time where the threat of the coronavirus lingers through the community and the craziness of behaviors throughout American society can make childhood seem ominous and frightening.
That’s where Judy Mohrfeld comes in, teacher at the Franklin County Schools of 16 such kindergartners and this year’s Teacher of the Year at the school.
“First you have to make sure you have a safe environment for the students and build their courage and self-confidence,” said Mohrfeld. “Then they are open to learning so many things. They come to a huge campus and they have to feel comfortable.”
Mohrfeld had worked for the state and as a paraprofessional, raising two sons, now in their 30s. It wasn’t until the Tallahassee native turned 40 that she decided to get a degree in early childhood education, and so she attended Thomas University, where she graduated in 2008.
After that she taught at Northside Elementary in Cairo, Georgia until 2008, when she joined the Franklin Schools’ faculty. She and her husband, a building inspector in Wakulla County, live in Eastpoint, in the heart of the community she now serves.
“It's a blessing to be able to see the children come in and see the changes that happen over a school year,” she said. “There are so many things they have to learn. It’s really incredible what they can learn in one year.”
While the subject matter is of course pretty simple by grown-up standards, Mohrfeld shares that it also is far-reaching.
“There’s so much to learn in kindergarten. I teach all subjects, math, language arts, science and social studies,” she said. “We’re at the foundation of learning for their future.
“They’re learning to count to 100 by ones and 10s, and they are learning to read,” Mohrfeld said. “It’s so encouraging to hear them read; they’ve just learned something about themselves.”
But it’s more than just book learning, it’s also about incorporating discipline and order in their lives
“They're learning a routine,” she said, describing a school day that starts for the kids at 7:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until 2:45 p.m. “It's a full day, we are non-stop, go go go, there’s no nap time and just a short recess.
“We have to stay on a schedule and work hard,” Mohrfeld said. “That’s a big part of going to kindergarten, adjusting to a schedule that's so rigorous.”
What she is doing brings her an unmistakable satisfaction, a busy excitement that’s hard to shy away from when school is out in the summer.
“I try to find projects because everything is so quiet without the children and all the activity,” Mohrfeld said. “Everything I've learned has led up to something I’m doing now.”
What she has been doing includes having served as a volunteer Boy Scout leader from 1996 to 2013, where she devoted a lot of time with hiking and canoeing and everything in between.
And as of three years ago, she has a new granddaughter to scout the world with, her first.
Also named as winning teacher for the secondary level at Franklin Schools was Dirk Strunk, who teaches weightlifting classes and serves as athletic director
This year, the school will honor two of “rookie” teachers, Holly Chambers, who teaches first grade on the main campus, and William\McCullough, who teaches secondary school at the Franklin County Learning Center.
The learning center also honored its School-Related Employee of the Year, who this year is Tydron Jules Wynn, a paraprofessional who like McCullough instructs in the long-term alternative program.
The School-Related Employee of the Year at Franklin School is Tamara Messer Gilbert, who serves as receptionist at the front desk.
“I appreciate your dedication to Franklin County District Schools,” wrote Superintendent Steve Lanier in the announcement. “Gems cannot be hidden. It is all your effort and hard work that has resulted in this achievement of yours. I’m happy that your diligence and excellence are being rewarded and very proud of your progress.
“The students have a great example of leadership before them,” he said. “Cheers to many more teacher/employee of the year moments.”
The Apalachicola Bay Charter School also has selected its Teacher of the Year and School Related Employee of the Year and they will be featured in next week’s Times.
The district competition for the Teacher and School-Related Employee of the Year is scheduled for Jan. 31. The banquet, hosted by the Franklin County Educational Foundation, will be scheduled sometime after that.
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