EDISTO ISLAND -- When this rural community learned last year that it might lose Amanda Fox, it started raising money to cover her salary.
Fox works at Jane Edwards Elementary School as a student-support specialist. It's a fancy title that doesn't convey the real-life difficulties she tries to handle every day.
On Friday, Fox drove one of her students and her non-English-speaking parent to the Medical University of South Carolina for the child's dental surgery. She spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to pay another parent's power bill.
She gives students her cell phone number, takes them on overnight camping trips and sends food home with the hungry.
Fox's efforts have attracted national attention, and she is one of six recipients of the Communities In Schools Unsung Heroes award. The recognition honors those who embody the organization's core values and demonstrate excellence in their jobs.
"Our classroom teachers can teach because Amanda has seen to it that our students have food, clothing, electricity, medical care and even beds from resources available to her through (Communities In Schools)," said
Principal Susan Miles. "Our children now enter the classrooms ready to learn."
Nominees come from across the Communities In Schools network, which is active in 25 states and Washington in more than 3,400 schools.
This is the second consecutive year a local Communities In Schools employee has received the recognition; last year, Robin Haggard at Haut Gap Middle School on Johns Island was one of five nationwide to receive the honor.
"It's hard to nominate just one because we have such incredible staff, but I think it speaks volumes to the caliber of professional people we have working in the schools," said Jane Riley, executive director of Charleston Communities In Schools.
Communities In Schools is a dropout-prevention nonprofit, and the Charleston affiliate worked in 15 Lowcountry schools during 2010-11. The nonprofit hires site coordinators, or student-support specialists, and places them at schools, and they are responsible for figuring out what students need and making sure those needs are met.
For Fox, that has meant recruiting 34 individual and partner agency volunteers who have provided more than 550 hours of service and donated more than $11,600 in goods or services. The school has a guidance counselor only one day per week, so Fox's work is critical for students to be ready to learn. Ninety-seven percent of the school's students are low-income.
Fox, 30, is in her third year at Jane Edwards Elementary. Before she and her husband relocated to Charleston, she spent seven years working in wilderness therapy programs. She found a temporary job here while pursuing a position with Communities In Schools. When she met Jane Edwards Elementary's principal, they clicked.
Fox didn't mind the three-hour round-trip commute from her Mount Pleasant home because being in a rural setting felt right. She grew up playing in the woods and learning in a school about the same size as Jane Edwards. She has since moved to within 20 minutes of the school.
"I feel like I can connect with these kids," she said.
High-fives and "Hi Mrs. Fox!" are the norm when she walks down the hall. One student sneaks in a quick hug, and Fox smiles.
She decided two years ago that she wanted to do more for fifth- and sixth-grade girls who were starting to reach puberty, so she started the Pink Locker Society. They meet during lunch so students don't miss class, and they talk about the changes they are going through. They also work on social skills.
At Tuesday's meeting, Fox coordinated a team-building exercise that involved hypothetical sharks and a sinking boat. The girls squealed as Fox gently encouraged them.
She told them afterward that it was less important to figure out a solution and more important to work as a team. She told them she was pleased with how well they had done as a group.
The girls reluctantly lined up to go back to class.
JOB: Student-support specialist for Communities In Schools
FAMILY: Husband, Kit, who also works as student-support specialist for Communities In Schools
HOMETOWN: Franklin, N.C.
COLLEGE: Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.; earned bachelor's degree in art
FAVORITE PART ABOUT HER JOB: "The kids. The time I get to spend with them is the best part of my day."