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Bennett named Lakehoma's Teacher of the Year
Lakehoma Elementary's Teacher of the Year, Belinda Bennett, will tell anyone she has 24 kids in her kindergarten class and she probably gets 48 hugs a day. She said she goes home exhausted at 6 p.m., but it's worth it.

"I don't just have a job," she said. "It's a passion. It's what I've been called to do."

Bennett knew in Mrs. Winkler's first grade class what she would do with her life.

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"There was something about the way she taught us that I thought, 'I want to grow up and do that,'" she said.

She tells her own students that they can all go to college.

"I think they need to hear that," she said. "I tell them, I was a first grader when I knew what I wanted to be. You could end up growing up to be what you want to be.' They mature so much in kindergarten. It's fun to see how much they can do and how much they can accomplish."

Bennett has been teaching for 16 years. After staying home with her kids, she began teaching kindergarten half a day at Lakehoma Elementary the year her youngest child started school. She found a full-time position in Blanchard and the family moved there, but all their activities were still in Mustang. When her oldest graduated, Bennett and her husband thought it would be a good time to go back to Mustang, but Bennett didn't have a job there.

And then the principal for Lakehoma Elementary called.

"It's so funny how God works. Out of the blue she called me and offered me a first-grade position," Bennett said. "We literally found a house in the first week. I came back to the same school where I started."

She has been with Mustang Schools for 11 years, eventually moving to kindergarten. In all she's taught kindergarten, first and second.

"Kindergarten is your very foundation," she said. "I want to instill that love of learning in them. I feel like I'm giving them a strong foundation. I try to make them feel loved and supported and I'm giving them the foundational skills they need."

For one unit this year, the kindergarten-grade teachers divided up lessons on science. One teacher had snails, one taught about gold fish and Bennett volunteered for worms. The students enjoyed the lesson so much, the worms have become defacto class pets. If they finish their work, they get to play with a worm or two, or maybe drop a scrap of fruit from their lunch in the container. Bennett isn't sure how they can tell them apart, but the kids have given them names.

"They absolutely love them," she said. "I don't have the heart to get rid of them."

Bennett also loves story time. They may be in kindergarten, but she's introducing them to the joy of chapter books with the "Tales of Despereaux." She syncs her iPad with the SmartBoard to project the words so the students can see them as Bennett reads.

Bennett was shocked to be named Teacher of the Year.

"I teach with such amazing teachers," she said. "I'm not any more special than anyone else. I want to represent my school the best I can. I'm just so honored to be in this group and I'll be excited for anyone who will be named District Teacher of the Year."

Bennett said she also loves spending time with her family, including a 9-month old grandbaby, serving in her church and doing mission work in her free time.

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