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DeSoto County Schools Teacher of the Year Susan Powell works with students in her second-grade Spotlight classroom at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Olive Branch.  

DeSoto County Schools (DCS) will have an elementary school teacher from Olive Branch as its district Teacher of the Year for the 2018-19 school year.

Susan Powell, who teaches second-grade Spotlight students at Pleasant Hill Elementary School, 7686 Pleasant Hill Road in Olive Branch, was announced Thursday as this year’s district teacher of the year.

The announcement came during a reception held at the DCS Central Services office in Hernando late Thursday afternoon.

Powell was chosen from other school winners to represent DCS to the state Department of Education, which will determine a state Teacher of the Year later this school year.

“I am very humbled and very surprised,” Powell said. “I adore the interaction with the students as well as their families. I have very involved families that come to the classroom.”

This is not the first time Powell has been named a Teacher of the Year, having been recognized at DeSoto Central Middle School when she taught there during the 2004-05 school year. She was also named Teacher of the Year early in her education career when Powell taught at Ruby Ray Swift Elementary School, located in Arlington, Texas, during the 1992-93 school year.

Powell also taught in Alabama before coming to DeSoto County in 1999.

Powell’s classroom is highly engaging, project-based and student-centered, according to information provided on her resume. Among the items that are taught involve robotics and coding, which helps students comprehend math skills that include direction, speed and angles.

Students also learn about sewing and how to operate sewing machines, but it’s done to promote serving others. The youngsters make “taggies,” which are blankets with tabs to stimulate senses – as a community service project. The taggies have gone to Native Americans in Arizona, along with orphanages in South America, China and Africa. The recipients then send photos of them with their taggies back to the Olive Branch classroom.

Outside the classroom, Powell has been active in the Unknown Child Foundation, inspired from the Pennies Project she and another teacher were involved in at Horn Lake Middle School.

While her students were studying the Holocaust, they were challenged to collect 1.5 million pennies, one for each child who died in the Nazi atrocities of World War II.

The goal was reached after three-and-a-half years and a memorial is being planned on land at the Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake which can become the first children’s Holocaust memorial in the United States.

“We’re working toward bringing our ideas of a memorial more to fruition,” said Powell, who serves as the foundation’s vice-president.

“Susan is a teacher inside and outside the classroom,” said Diane McNeil, the foundation’s president. “Because of her passion for her own students to understand the Holocaust, thousands more have also become ‘her students.’ The Traveling Exhibit (which has been in Hernando and Collierville, Tenn.) has been seen by some 10,000, of which many were school groups.”

Pleasant Hill principal Bettye Magee, in her first year at the school, said Powell quickly made a lasting impression on her.

“She has the students use their creativity, curiosity and imagination to collaborate with one another on things such as, but no limited to, service projects, inquiry and interest-based STEM activities, logic puzzles, robotics and word studies,” Magee explained. “Our family at Pleasant Hill is proud to have Susan Powell represent us.”

In addition to teaching at Pleasant Hill and Horn Lake Middle School, Powell has also taught in the county at Southaven Intermediate and DeSoto Central Elementary School.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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