Barnard Elementary School conducted promotional exercises in June for the fifth grade class at the end of what has been an eventful year. The hourslong ceremony included student reflections, videos, awards and pandemonium from excited parents and family members.
These moments of joy culminated in a surprise announcement that brought much of the fifth grade class to its feet: Griselda Rutherford-Strong, Barnard Elementary’s beloved fifth-grade English and social studies teacher, won the Honored Schools’ Life-Changing Teacher Award along with a check for $5,000.
Students wrote letters and sent videos endorsing Rutherford-Strong, a teacher with 25 years of classroom experience, for what they described as her even-keeled nature and knack for making learning fun.
In reflecting on her latest achievement, Rutherford-Strong said she always strives to treat students like they’re her own children.
“It was important for the children to come back to a loving environment and a classroom that was conducive for learning,” Rutherford-Strong after the ceremony.
“Our students had to readjust to socializing [among] more people and coming back into an environment with restrictions and rules,” she said. “I was able to infuse my instruction [with games] in the beginning and make learning fun. My students had a chance to journey to places in my lesson that made it fun and engaging.”
Rutherford-Strong, in her seventh year at Barnard Elementary, serves as the leader of the fifth-grade instructional team. In her role, she has suggested and implemented enrichment programming including mother-daughter teas, a pen pal writing project and an initiative through which students connect to local embassies.
In addition to teaching and interacting with fifth graders, Rutherford-Strong also handles Barnard Elementary’s social media account.
In the classroom, a significant part of Rutherford-Strong’s instruction this year involved holding students accountable and using the Oculus virtual reality game to help them “visit” places studied in class.
Grace Reid, principal of Barnard Elementary, described Rutherford-Strong’s passion as infectious.
“Ms. Rutherford is a totally committed teacher,” Reid said. “If there’s an activity [she finds appealing,] she brings it to Barnard. She’s always looking out for students and making sure they’re on task and their needs are met. She goes above and beyond to make sure [of that], no matter who they are.”
On Wednesday morning, Barnard Elementary community members also recognized and received checks in honor of Sharon McCrea and Antoinette Wortham, two veteran teachers who died earlier in the academic year.
In winning her award, Rutherford-Strong joins Patricia West, her colleague who received the Honored Schools award last school year while teaching at Whittier Elementary School in Northwest.
This year, Honored Schools partnered with nine District public schools and eight schools in Indianapolis. In the District, hundreds of teachers received student and community member nominations. Rutherford-Strong and other Barnard Elementary teachers counted among the top-10 finalists. Students who spoke on their behalf submitted videos and letters that Honored Schools personnel digitized and compiled.
Kevin Beckford, Honored Schools’ senior director of programs, partnerships and strategy, said it’s paramount that Rutherford-Strong and other teachers receive recognition after a year that tested the resolve of teachers everywhere, and even, according to research conducted by the National Education Association, has some educators exploring other career opportunities.
“Teacher appreciation is at an all-time low,” Beckford said. “We have to celebrate teachers and create a culture. It’s making a difference because beyond pay, appreciation is a factor for teachers.”