• 68°

Drewrey named Teacher of the Year finalist

Whitney Drewrey, special education teacher at Lafayette Upper Elementary School, is poised to become the first Mississippi Teacher of the Year from Lafayette County.

Last week, Drewrey was named one of four finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on April 13 at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson. Drewrey said she is excited to be considered for the honor, especially considering the educators she’s up against.

“There are so many great teachers in this state and to know I am even considered to stand among them is an honor,” Drewrey said.

“When Mr. Tillman, my principal, told me I think my mouth flew open in shock,” Drewery said. “I can’t believe that what I do every day has impacted enough people to be recognized in this magnitude.”

Drewrey did not begin her teaching career in special education, but after teaching science for 12 years in a general education setting, she said she found herself drawn to helping children with special needs. Part of the reason she enjoys her job so much, she said, is because her students’ positive attitudes motivate her to give 100 percent of her effort, every day.

Teaching students, some with profound disabilities, can come with its own set of challenges, but celebrating all victories, both big and small, is one thing Drewrey said inspires her the most.

“The small goals my students reach are the best. I think as teachers we sometimes get caught up in looking for large accomplishments and get frustrated when it doesn’t happen quickly,” she said. “I want teachers to look for the smallest things and be sure to celebrate them. The little things are what inspire me every day. My students have been dealt a hand that makes their life sometimes a little more challenging than others, and to see them smile every day can make your heart melt.”

As an Ole Miss graduate with a masters degree in special education, Drewrey said she’s currently in her “dream job.” She has implemented several new programs in her classroom, including bringing in service dogs from Wildrose Kennels to work with her students.

The children read to the dogs, which helps improve reading fluency as well as social and functional skills. The students also learn to care for, train and communicate through working with the dogs.

Innovative teaching methods like this are one reason students and parents admire Drewrey, LUES principal Thomas Tillman said.

“Many of the parents of the children whom Mrs. Drewrey teaches desire for her to follow their children throughout their schooling. It will be a challenge to keep Mrs. Drewrey stationary,” Tillman said. “Mrs. Drewrey is the epitome of what it means to be a Commodore. She has high expectations for all of her students and a great deal of love and compassion, which is exhibited each and every day.”

Drewrey said she plans to use her platform as state finalist to prove every child is capable of learning, and encourage teachers to find ways to reach every single student. Part of achieving that, she said, is to “reflect, reinvent and evolve” to meet each day’s specific challenges.

The people who help her achieve those goals, she said, are her “dream team” – Kendall Glass, Brenda Goodson and Katelyn Shanks.

According to Lafayette County School District superintendent Adam Pugh, no one can fully understand how much Drewrey means to her students, and vice versa, without seeing them in the classroom.

“If you could just see her in the classroom, the excitement that she has for some of our students with disabilities, that’s what sets her above,” Pugh said. “It’s great that she’s in the finals. She may not win, but I don’t think there’s anybody that’s been selected who is more deserving than she is.”

At the end of the day, Drewrey said she hopes her experience as Teacher of the Year for LCSD and as a state finalist will encourage others in the district, community and county to understand that every student has a place where they belong.
Even if that means doing a happy dance because a student learned to write their whole name or read a recipe, Drewrey said she has the full support of her fellow teachers.

“My colleagues have been more than kind. They encourage me everyday and support the excitement I have for my students,” she said. “Receiving this award has been the biggest thank you I could ever imagine. It lets me know that what my team and I do has made a difference.”