Lessons, rewards, and hugs

Lauren Varnadoe, Dorchester District 4 Teacher of the Year, answers a question from Taronda Summers (left) as Teja Jamison listens Wednesday at Williams Memorial Elementary School in St. George.

ST. GEORGE — Lauren Varnadoe was a slam-dunk for Dorchester District 4's 2009 Teacher of the Year after a screening team observed her interacting with her third-grade students.

The team was certain Varnadoe deserved the top post after it "came out of her classroom in awe," said Rhonda Robinson, the district's director of staff development. Varnadoe's students were very engaged in the classroom lesson, she said.

Varnadoe, who's been teaching third grade at Williams Memorial Elementary School for the past five years, was selected last week from a pool of five candidates who represented each of the district's schools.

The screening team made its decision based on nominees' portfolios, a personal interview and a period of classroom observation.

Williams Memorial Principal Jeffrey Beckwith said Varnadoe "will do whatever it takes to make these kids successful."

Eight-year-old Morgan Parker, one of Varnadoe's students, agreed. "She teaches us a lot and when we go to take tests, we know what we've got to do," she said.

But Varnadoe's students also said their teacher is nice and caring.

"No one gives as many hugs as Mrs. Varnadoe," said student Evan Judy, 8.

Bryant Moore, 9, said Varnadoe makes the class fun. For example, to teach students about measurement and capacity in math class, she had the children make snack mixes.

And Kiaeem Felder, 9, likes that she gives students rewards. Students have a math "problem of the day," he said. And if they get it right, they get a sticker or a piece of bubble gum they can chew in her class, but nowhere else in the school.

Varnadoe said Williams Memorial is the only school at which she's been a teacher. She grew up in Reeseville, so she knows the area. It's home to her. When she meets with parents, they often have acquaintances in common.

Varnadoe credits her teaching ability to other educators who have passed lessons and insight on to her. "That's the teaching profession," she said. "You learn everything from someone else."

While Varnadoe is humble about her accomplishment, her student, Arieanah Bennett, 9, doesn't hold back when praising her teacher. "She's smart and she helps us get smart," Arieanah said.