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Furman Names Recipients of Childers Teaching Excellence Awards

From left: Ashley McCollum, Dr. Nelly Hecker, and Rachael Weisinger.

Ashley McCollum, a fifth-grade math teacher at Holly Springs Motlow Elementary School in Campobello, and Rachael Weisinger, an English teacher at Travelers Rest High School, have been named recipients of the 2016 Childers Education Foundation Teaching Excellence Award from Furman University.

Both McCollum, an elementary education major, and Weisinger, an English major who is certified to teach secondary education, graduated from Furman in May 2016. They each received a $1,500 award during a conferral ceremony and special reception Dec. 7.

A committee of Furman faculty, along with school administrators and mentor teachers who worked closely with award nominees, used three main criteria in selecting the Childers Award winners:  love of content, love of teaching, and love of student.

“Ashley McCollum and Rachael Weisinger are extraordinary and inspiring teachers,” said Dr. Nelly Hecker, Education Professor and Department Chair. “They not only care for their students’ growth and well-being, but also engage them in thoughtful, well-developed lessons. We are proud to honor their accomplishments as teachers and Furman graduates.”

McCollum was recognized for her consistency and creativity in teaching, genuine care and compassion for her students, and her sincere reflection of practice and student achievement.

“It is clear that Ashley is enjoying what she does,” said Dawn Mitchell, one of McCollum’s teaching mentors. “She has invested much of herself into her environment and much more into her lessons and into her students.”

“I spent the summer studying the curriculum and researching the best ways to teach math because I wanted to be the best teacher I could be starting on the very first day,” said McCollum. “There is something about helping a child reach a point of understanding that gives me a sense of purpose. I am so thankful that I discovered my passion for teaching, because I cannot imagine doing anything else.”

Weisinger said there was a time when she didn’t feel as confident about her teaching abilities. “I went into college fearful that just because I loved kids and Harper Lee, it might mean I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. After all, you could love cars and racing, but it doesn’t mean you should be the driver,” she said.

After attending Furman, her fears were put to rest. In her first semester of teaching, Weisinger was named Travelers Rest High’s Teacher of the Month. She also led the high school newspaper’s transition from a print product to an online edition and produced a large-scale fundraiser for the newspaper.

A group of Weisinger’s students also attended the ceremony, along with family, friends, faculty, mentors and administrators.

“We love her so much and we know she would show the same support for us,” said Travelers Rest High School senior Kendall Silvers. “I respect her as my teacher but I feel like I can also talk to her about anything that’s on my mind.”

“In classroom 227, I try to have us bring all of our voices together: mine, my students’ and Scout’s (from To Kill a Mockingbird). It’s a place where students are allowed to dislike a short story, and where they’re allowed to tell me what they thought of the most recent movie. It’s where I want to know what they did over the weekend. And it’s where, hopefully, they wonder about Atticus. My students will learn more, appreciate more, and listen more carefully if they listen to the voice that’s being shared,” said Weisinger. “I want my students to know that I am on their side, that I am rooting for them, and to me, they are the hero and protagonist of their own stories.”

The award for first-year teachers was established in 2009 by Marybeth Bunting Childers ’80, an education major at Furman who founded two schools and was named North Carolina Teacher of the Year, and her husband, Alfred Childers ‘80, a former member of Furman’s Board of Trustees.

Previous award winners include Mary Varley and John Morrison in 2015; Alyssa Cameron, Amy McGreevy and Alison Williams in 2014; Caroline Lambert and Julie Jarriel in 2013; Alison Harwood and Matt Casella in 2012; Lara Savitz and Carol Ann Denyer in 2011; Katharine Hsu and Megan Schonhar in 2010; and Laura Jill Johnson and Phillippa Marion Maroney in 2009.

For more information about the award, contact Dr. Nelly Hecker in the Department of Education, (864) 294-3385, or nelly.hecker@furman.edu.

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