By David Boyce
A smile and several tears emerged from Bridget French Friday afternoon at Manor Hill Elementary School in a surprise ceremony honoring her teaching ability from many years ago. In front of students in her first-grade classroom, French received a certificate from Liberty High School senior Mallory McGee.
French was one of 15 teachers in Liberty Public Schools who were recently recognized by Liberty High seniors in the Honored Educators program started last year by Liberty High assistant principal Greg Mees.
The best part of the award certificate is what is printed on it: On behalf of the senior class, we would like to invite you to graduation and thank you.
With family, friends, and colleagues looking on Friday, French had a hard time maintaining her emotions. McGee was part of her first class at Manor Hill. French recalled that she had nine girls and nine boys in her class her first year.
“This is so exciting. This means everything,” French said. “I had the most amazing kids and parent volunteers. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. They were my first babies. I know Mallory is going to be successful.”
The moment was just as special for McGee, who plans to attend the University of Kansas in the fall and major in nursing. McGee remembers her days in French’s first grade classroom.
“I remember walking into her classroom the first day of school, and she was so happy,” McGee said. “She welcomed us all in the classroom and made us feel like it was our second home. That year was really fun. We did a lot of fun activities.”
The beauty of the Honored Educators program is that it allows teachers to see the impact they had on students.
“A lot of times, you don’t know if you impacted somebody,” French said.
Seeing French and McGee together brought tears to Manor Hill Principal Valerie Utecht.
“It is more than a profession what we do,” Utecht said. “To see a student go from first grade, and remember her teacher in that fashion, has to be one of her best moments. I know it made an impact on me to see a student reunite with a teacher. It is probably one of the best things I have seen in my career. It is very honoring to students and their experiences, as they have gone through Liberty Public Schools. To see the progression of the different schools and students at graduation is just the coolest thing.”
At 2 p.m. on May 14, at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, French will be in cap and gown, sitting with 14 other teachers from the elementary, middle, and high schools who were voted by the senior class as influential teachers.
“After they graduate, the students will walk by all of the honored teachers,” Mees said. “The teachers get to see all the students they taught.
“We know there are a lot of people who have been influential in the seniors’ educational career and not just the teachers they have in high school.”
Credit for the Honored Educators program, Mees said, goes to Columbia Hickman.
“I was an Honored Teacher there as a faculty member,” Mees said. “I know it was one of the greatest honors I have had in my educational career.”
Mees also gives credit to the administrative assistant he works with, Jenny Ward. She makes sure all of the seniors fill out the surveys on their best teachers and organizes the surprise visits at each school.
“The teachers have no idea we are coming,” Mees said. “The school invites other people to be involved in it. We have spouses, kids, and all kinds of people come.”
After talking with the Honored Educators last year, one change was made for this year’s graduation ceremony. The Honor Educators will get a couple of tickets, so they can bring family to share in the happy moment.
For Liberty seniors, the Honored Educators program allows them to show their appreciation to all of the teachers that helped them in their educational journey.
“It lets them know they have made an impact on us, and we remember them and the impact they had with the rest of our education,” McGee said. “Graduation is going to be really neat. You can look back and see all of the teachers who got you to this point. It will be awesome to be able to celebrate with them, along with your friends and family.”