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Teaching the whole child

Schilling, Bennett round out district educator honorees
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
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Elementary Teacher of the Year Tracy Bennett, left, is pictured working one-on-one with a third grade student at A.E. Phillips Laboratory School. Pictured right, Tammy Schilling, PE specialist at Hillcrest Elementary School, was named Early Grades Teacher of the Year for Lincoln Parish.

While at school, students need support in more than just the subject matter at hand. Teachers must look at the big picture and address the whole child in their classroom to truly be effective.

That’s what Tammy Schilling and Tracy Bennett believe, and it’s part of what led to their being honored among the top teachers in the Lincoln Parish School District this year.

A physical education specialist at Hillcrest Elementary School, Schilling was recently named Early Grades Teacher of the Year for the parish, while Bennett, a third grade English Language Arts and social studies teacher at A.E. Phillips Laboratory School, is Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Schilling spent many years as a kinesiology professor before moving to a K-2 school, and Bennett, through her position at Louisiana Tech’s lab school, gets to instruct college students at the same time as her third graders.

But no matter the age, these two teachers believe in going beyond academics to meet their students’ diverse needs.

Tammy Schilling

Known at Hillcrest as Coach Tammy, Schilling described herself as a competitive multi-sport athlete with a knack for math in high school, so majoring in kinesiology on the way to becoming a teacher and coach became her goal.

“I want to make a difference and help kids be and do more than they might have thought possible,” she said. “All students deserve to have dreams and support to help achieve them.”

Schilling said she’s passionate about taking a whole-child approach to education, addressing all aspects of health, not just cognitive or physical.

She builds social and emotional elements into her style of physical education, establishing four main guidelines for her classes: “Respect, Try Hard, Play/Stay Safe, and Be Kind.”

Schilling designs some activities specifically to focus on social skills for her K-2 students, such as working in a small group to build a hula hut and move through it in different ways.

“Because of the nature of most activities and use of equipment, students have an opportunity to learn and demonstrate responsibility in taking turns, watching out for others and moving safely, sharing, and simply being courteous,” Schilling said. “If you think about it, these things will also help you be a better community or family member and overall citizen.”

Before Hillcrest, Schilling worked at the university level for 19 years, including 11 years as an associate professor in Tech’s Department of Kinesiology, where she coordinated its Physical Education Teacher Education program.

While preparing college students to be good teachers and professionals, she often worked closely with grade schools like Hillcrest until she eventually decided it was time to shake things up.

“We were out in schools with kids quite a bit with practicums and outreach events,” Schilling said. “However, it’s very different to be fully ‘in it’ with the kids, teachers and families day in and day out… I have learned a lot over the past few years and strongly believe that these new experiences and challenges have helped me to see the bigger picture and made me a stronger teacher and professional.”

After joining Hillcrest, Schilling continued to design professional development sessions for elementary PE teachers across the parish and the state.

“We generally present unique activity ideas that integrate music with movement,” she said. “Music is such a natural ‘hook’ and motivator for students. It is powerful to incorporate it creatively with standards-based content.”

Schilling also coordinates Hillcrest’s Backpack Food Program distribution on Fridays for students struggling with food insecurity, and she’s a member of Goodwill Lunching, a nonprofit that promotes student literacy by providing kids with new, free books.

Hillcrest Principal Lauren Keen said Schilling is a great representative for Hillcrest and the school district as a whole.

“She is no stranger to hard work and always keeps students’ best interests at heart,” Keen said. “Hillcrest is thrilled ot have one of its own recognized with such a high honor. We are so proud of Coach Tammy and the wonderful things she exhibits as a Physical Education teacher.”

Tracy Bennett

Bennett didn’t originally plan to be a teacher. But while studying human ecology at Tech, she occasionally filled in for another student at the university’s early childhood center and began to realize where her calling truly lay.

“I found myself looking forward to each interaction at the early childhood center and talking about these opportunities every chance I had,” Bennett said. “Interacting with children who were hungry to learn and observing the many ways children learn inspired me to study child development and the art of teaching children.”

Now in her 11th year of teaching, Bennett said she still gets emotional when she sees her students come to the “aha moments.”

Like Schilling, Bennett believes in a wholechild approach to education, seeking to connect with her young charges on an individual level.

“Covering the academics is an important piece of the puzzle,” she said. “But there are so many other pieces. We must also look for ways to personally connect with our students and their families. If our students don’t know we care about them, they are less likely to care about what we know and want to teach them.”

In addition to her third grade English and social studies students, Bennett also mentors teachers in training at Tech and newly certified teachers, most recently becoming a Teacher Educators and Mentors (TEAM) full-year clinical residency mentor.

She said what she loves about teaching younger teachers is similar to what she loves about teaching third graders. She enjoys watching students learn at any level.

“Tech students are hungry to practice what they have been learning in college classes, and I’m thankful to provide a space for them to practice teaching,” she said. “I am blessed with the opportunity to help future teachers learn to be their best teaching selves, to learn new teaching strategies from these Tech students, and to model what I believe to be best teaching practices for others.”

In her letter recommending Bennett for this award, AEP Director Jenny Blalock said Bennett is a force of encouragement for everyone around her, whether student or coworker.

“Dr. Bennett works well with her third-grade students and the Louisiana Tech students whom she mentors,” Blalock said. “In addition to being a wonderful teacher and mentor, Dr. Bennett is an encouragement to new teachers on staff and administration. She takes time to send uplifting emails that brighten my day. This is one example of her heart for encouraging others.”

In kind, Bennett said AEP is exactly where she needs to be.

“Teaching at A.E. Phillips has been an amazing experience for me,” she said. “God blessed me by bringing me to this school and by allowing me to continue my mission at this school. I absolutely love my time with the students and getting to know their families.”

In addition to being recognized by the school district for their exemplary service to their schools and students, each Teacher of the Year also received gifts from local businesses Hunt, Guillot & Associates and 2High Trampoline Park.