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Cheryl Harrison named Centennial Elementary Teacher of the Year

Centennial Elementary’s Teacher of the Year is one of more than 110 district employees who graduated from Mustang High School. Cheryl Harrison, who teaches fourth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies, is a life-long Bronco who married her high school sweetheart after graduation.

Harrison earned a degree in home economics from the University of Central Oklahoma, but jobs were hard to come by for something that specialized. Her family owned a business in Mustang, Calico Cottage, where Harrison found a knack for teaching hands-on classes in beginning sewing or crafts like toll painting. After starting a family, she enrolled at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma to get her certification to teach elementary school.

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“I got a taste for elementary when my kids started school,” she said. “Then I realized how much fun it is. There is so much hands-on about it.”

She was hired to teach at Mustang Trails Elementary in third grade. There were familiar faces from her church and a large, supportive team to work with.

“It was a total blast,” she said of that first year.

Harrison has taught in third grade classrooms and second grade as well. This year is her 22 to teach in Mustang. Her classroom is a mixture of old school and technology, with everything organized around the room in colorful tubs. There’s a SmartBoard on the wall where she can virtually take the kids anywhere, including Catalina Island, the setting of the book they read “The Blue Dolphins.”

“Technology is part of their world and you have to go with it,” she said. “But you have to teach them balance. It’s good, but it’s okay to go back to a piece of literature and put your hands on it.”

They also learn about places with a postcard exchange, a project equivalent to 50 pen pals for research on the states.

“Maybe that’s what I want to give them: slow down,” she said. “In their lives, everything is instant. And I’m just old school enough to say, ‘Let’s sit back and enjoy this. Let’s let this marinate a little bit. Let’s spend some think time on this.”

Her teaching always involves stories. For Harrison, it increases the students’ ability to concentrate and recall. Her class recently spent time studying the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. They used the internet to visit his memorial and then each wrote down facts about his life. Then she brought out a carton of chicken eggs, all in different colors. One or two were stamped as if they were more important. Then she asked the class what would happen if she cracked all the eggs. Several students said “Well, once they crack, they’re all the same on the inside.”

“There was one little girl who got it,” Harrison said, fighting tears. “She gasped. I said, ‘You get it, don’t you?’ She said, ‘Oh! They’re just like us!’ They got it. They get analogies. Just to see those little ‘dings!’ is priceless.”

Harrison can’t remember the lesson she was teaching when one fourth grade boy this year almost shouted in class, “Oh my! I just got blasted with knowledge!”

“I just about rolled in the floor laughing,” Harrison said. “He made my day. It was priceless.”

His exclamation is now a quote that hangs on the wall, a reminder of a moment when teaching and learning synced into a moment of clarity. After two decades in the classroom, those moments are why she keeps signing on for another year.

“The job is still fun, but it’s hard. It’s exhausting but it’s exhilarating at the same time. I won’t say they need me, but I need them,” she said. “I think we need each other.”

Harrison is competing with 13 other site Teachers of the Year for Mustang Public Schools for the title of District Teacher of the Year. The winner will be named at a special banquet in March.

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