Third grade teacher Amanda Luper was named Mustang Centennial Elementary's 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year. Unlike many who earn their degree and certification in elementary education, that career path never crossed her mind until after she graduated from high school. She credits the decision in large part to one influential relationship.
Continued from front
Luper's grandpa lived across the alley while she was growing up. She called him her "go-to babysitter," but it was more than that. They were inseparable. She helped him weed his garden. They went for drives in the country, stopping at every bridge to peer over the side in search of fish. When the wild sand plums were ripe, they spent hours in the fields gathering them. Although he passed away when she was in middle school, that one relationship colored everything in her life to come.
"Never did I think I couldn't do something when I was around him," she said. "He made me feel important. I think that relationship helped me decide I want to make other kids feel love like I felt love from him."
On Luper's first day at Oklahoma State University, she switched her major from physical therapy to elementary education. She taught in Hennessey, her hometown, for two years before moving to the Mustang area. She's been at Centennial for five years.
Luper was the student who struggled in school.
"In elementary school, I literally hated reading," she said. "I couldn't read and remember anything but the whole time I was reading I was thinking about other things."
She turned her struggles into a platform to help her students.
"We all have struggles. We try really hard to embrace each other's strengths but also each others challenges. We shouldn't be ashamed of those things. It's who we are."
Her first year in Mustang, there was one child who didn't fit into the social norms. It was obvious she suffered from the more staggering effects of extreme poverty. Luper and her husband took her home as a foster child.
"She opened my eyes a lot," she said. "I thought I understood what parents went through. I had no clue. You're worried about them academically and socially. Are people being nice to them? It gave me a whole new array of things to think about. I will never forget that girl. She changed me."
There have been other students along the way she wanted to take home. She had one student who struggles socially, but is very bright. He asked to teach a lesson to the class and she turned over her SmartBoard while he explained blood and blood cells to his classmates.
"The kids were so completely in tune with him, it gave me goosebumps," she said. "I want them to embrace each other and love each other."
She tells every class about her beloved Papa Hadacol and how much she misses him.
"I want them to realize it's not just hard for them. There are other people who go through hard things and we can help each other," Luper said. "We can get strength from each other when we don't feel strong. If you don't teach kids how to treat each other, then they don't have a safe environment and actual learning can't take place. We talk all the time about how to be a good friend."
Luper was honored to be named Teacher of the Year, although the recognition itself is difficult.
"The reason I teach the way I do is because of the gifts God has given me," she said. "I don't feel like I'm the one who deserves credit."
Luper volunteers at Life.Church Mustang as the emcee for Konnect, which is first through fourth grade church. She and her husband also facilitate an adult LifeGroup. She is competing with 13 other site Teachers of the Year for the title of District Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in March.