On July 14, Vermilion Parish educators were honored at the inaugural Kiwanis Educator Awards and cheered for their passion and devotion for educating and uplifting children.
It was a more low-key event than originally planned, with guests wearing masks and honorees being recognized in small groups, but virus concerns couldn’t dull the community’s pride and the outpouring of joy.
“It still gives me goosebumps to think about,” event organizer Andrew Dozier said.
At the ceremony, the 21 educators in the Top 3 for the support staff and elementary, middle and high school teacher and principal categories were recognized, then a top finalist was named in each category.
Dara Broussard of Dozier Elementary, Malinda Roy of North Vermilion Middle, and Lacey Meaux of Abbeville High were honored as the top teacher finalists; Elizabeth Bearb of James A. Herod Elementary, Wendy Stoute of Erath Middle, and Belisa Smith of Erath High were honored as top principal finalists; and Tiffany Roche of James A. Herod Elementary was named the top support staff finalist.
Dozier began developing the idea for an educators’ recognition program in 2017, when he served as Kiwanis Club of Abbeville president. Inspired by Vermilion Parish’s strong statewide performance in the past five years, Dozier said he wanted to honor the educators, administrators and support staff who make student achievement possible.
Dozier, now a Kiwanis Lt. Governor, shadowed the Lafayette Education Foundation for the past two years, learning about its nomination and selection process, the pin patrol and the logistics of its long-running awards gala. The Kiwanians’ inaugural gala was scheduled for March 31, but the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the plans and made gatherings unsafe.
The team bid their time and waited for improvements in the region’s coronavirus trends, but with the situation changing each week and the window of opportunity closing before the new school year, Dozier said he and the other Kiwanians knew they needed to act quickly to have an in-person celebration.
Dozier said it was important to him the educators felt the community’s gratitude.
“Educators are essential every day and they are the pillar of the community for our youth. Educators are there with our kids on a daily basis and they are doing the groundwork,” he said.
Abbeville High teacher Lacey Meaux, the high school teacher top finalist, said she was blown away that her co-worker, Brooke Broussard, thought enough of her contributions to their campus that she would take the time to praise her. Every teacher puts in more than their job description requires and to be uplifted when everyone around you is working just as hard is humbling, she said.
An Abbeville High alumna, Meaux said she’s a “wildcat through and through.”
“I think that because I’m an alumnus, I want to work every day to make it better because I know the potential that school has. A lot of people look down on my school, but we’ve proven ourselves,” she said.
The 10-year teaching veteran works as the school’s virtual education coordinator and has her hands in many extracurricular pots — she helps plan homecoming, coaches softball and girls’ volleyball, sponsors the Beta club and the senior class, and serves on the school’s leadership team. Meaux grew up working in her family’s grocery store and said hard work and a helpful nature are in her blood.
The hard work at school translates to lasting, supportive relationships with the students, some of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds or lack support systems at home, she said.
“I like to get to know the kids because all of them have a story and a lot of them, sad to say, don’t have anyone at home to ask them how they’re doing. I try to make them feel safe and feel at home, like they have someone they can trust that they can go to when they need something…Everybody needs somebody to believe in them, including myself,” Meaux said.
James A. Herod Elementary Assistant Principal Liz Bearb said her relationships with the roughly 400 third- through fifth-grade students at James A. Herod are also the driving force behind her work. Bearb said she loves using her talents to motivate students, inspire their love of learning and develop their sense of confidence around schoolwork.
There’s nothing like the smile on a kid’s face when they grasp a lesson and are proud of themselves, Bearb said.
“They’re our future. It’s that simple. If we don’t continue inspiring them, what’s going to happen? It’s important for us as educators to inspire them and motivate them to make our world a better place,” she said.
Bearb worked for seven years as a teacher in Acadia and Lafayette parishes before making the transition to administration; it took some time to build the confidence in her leadership ability, she said. Now that she’s harnessed her voice, the administrator said she’s passionate about empowering teachers and students to be leaders through positivity and encouragement.
Her principal, Lysonia Robertson, has been a key mentor and helped her expand her knowledge as an administrator. Bearb said she was touched to learn Robertson nominated her and her kind words and support have inspired her to work even harder.
“She does not shrink from hard work or hard conversations and takes her role as an instructional leader seriously. She has garnered the respect of the students, teachers and parents alike. Our school would be a much different place without her,” Robertson wrote.
Robertson also nominated Support Staff winner Tiffany Roche, the bookkeeper at James A. Herod Elementary.
Roche said she had a more circuitous route to education; several years ago, she was working in a bank when she realized it wasn’t the job for her. She went back to school and earned her teaching certification and worked in the district as a substitute teacher for five years. While she worked in several schools, Herod Elementary always called to her, she said.
“It’s like a family there. Everybody gets along with each other and is willing to help … People there genuinely care about you and they want you to succeed,” Roche said.
At Herod Elementary, no day is the same, Roche said. In addition to balancing the books, Roche also helps take calls at the front desk, check students in and out, address parent needs, make copies for teachers and cover teachers’ classrooms while they take bathroom breaks or address other sudden needs. It’s never boring, she said.
Roche said it’s natural to pitch in wherever she’s needed, but her willingness to be a team player was what caught Robertson’s eye. The principal wrote about Roche’s desire to go above and beyond, her sharp attention to detail and her selflessness, like when she jumped into action to help in the cafeteria when the team was understaffed.
“When they read the nominee letter and I realized it was me, I just started crying. I was humbled. I didn’t think someone would take the time out of their day to write an essay like that about me. I truly couldn’t believe that it was,” Roche said.