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Whitney Drewrey wins Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year

Whitney Drewrey has officially been named Lafayette County’s first Mississippi Teacher of the Year.

Drewrey, who teaches special education at Lafayette Upper Elementary School, said she was surprised and excited when her name was announced during a reception at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson on Friday, April 13.

“Part of my speech that I gave said I never in a million years thought I would’ve gotten Teacher of the Year for the entire state,” Drewrey said. “I want Mississippi to know that I am going to make sure the nation knows how hard we work. We don’t always get the recognition that we need. I want to make sure our nation knows we produce productive citizens.”

In fact, Drewrey said, she never thought she would have ended up being a teacher at all. Not one to play school growing up, or even make straight As, her desire to become a teacher came from her wish that someone had pushed her to reach her potential.

According to Drewrey, her teaching philosophy is simple: all children are capable of learning.

“My main platform is that all kids can learn and the child in your class that you think is the child nobody can reach and doesn’t have a chance, they do,” she said. “That’s a big thing for me is to get to the hard kids. I want the ones that are hard to teach are not forgotten.”

Reaching the “underdogs” and celebrating even the smallest victories are two things Drewrey said she makes sure to do in her classroom. She teaches 16 students in grades 3 through 5, some of whom have severe or profound disabilities.

In her lessons every day, Drewrey said she and her aides place a huge emphasis on teaching the students real-world skills they can use long after they leave her classroom. From Money Monday to Taking Orders Thursday, her students learn about basic life skills, such as counting money, cleaning and conversations. They also practice community service, partnering with Love Packs.

According to Dr. Jennifer Osborne, director of Special Education Services for Lafayette County School District, this teaching style is one of the many reasons Drewrey is deserving of the Teacher of the Year title.

“The mutual love and respect she shares with her students shines bright in every relationship present within her classroom. As she advocates for student needs, she teaches self-advocacy skills through her actions,” Osborne said. “Her diligent planning, innovative teaching strategies, classroom management techniques, compassionate heart, and the personal grit she demonstrates while carrying out the provisions of IDEA for every student is truly amazing.”

One of Drewrey’s favorite days of the week, she said, is Friday. Every Friday, her class practices cooking skills, which helps them learn fractions and gives them a sense of independence. The students are able to combine the skills they have learned throughout the week to take orders and make deliveries of items they’ve made.

“I believe in my lessons and in my class, we relate everything we teach to the real world,” she said. “I’ve got kids that have learned to identify fractions this year, and they don’t even realize it. They’ve learned how to measure ingredients and can even make a whole box-mix cake by themselves.”

She and her aides also bring the students on field trips to places like Kroger, where they learn to read food labels, follow a shopping list and even scan and bag groceries. During Thanksgiving, the class works together to prepare a full holiday meal, complete with a hand-carved turkey.

Teaching these lessons wouldn’t be possible without the support of the entire school, however. Drewrey said the LUES faculty and staff members are great when it comes to interacting with her students, whether they’re practicing conversation skills or learning to follow directions.

While the recognition for her hard work is nice, Drewrey said the real reward is knowing she has made an impact on her students’ lives.

“Probably the most emotional part over the past few days is seeing comments from former students who I never even realized I had impacted. To have them respond in the way they have, it lets me know I’m doing something right,” she said. “My job is not just their test scores or what I’m teaching in their curriculum. When you have kids in their 20s and they can still tell stories about when they were in your classroom, that means you impacted them in some way.”