SNOW HILL — Educators recognized Snow Hill Elementary School’s Gina Russell as the 2019 Worcester County Teacher of the Year with a surprise announcement Wednesday.
In a twist on tradition, instead of naming the 2019 Teacher of the Year at the annual banquet in Ocean City on Friday, officials said they would surprise the winner with a classroom visit this week. On Wednesday, they got on a bus to travel to Snow Hill Elementary to surprise Russell, who was one of four finalists announced Friday night. More than 200 people tuned in to watch the surprise visit on Facebook Live in spite of connectivity issues as they waited to see which of the finalists — Russell, Worcester Technical High School’s Rick Stephens, Berlin Intermediate School’s Michael Anne Bunting and Pocomoke High School’s Brandi Castaneda — would be declared the winner.
“I’m truly honored,” said Russell after officials arrived in her classroom. “I will make you all very proud.”
School system leaders and local elected officials gathered just before 1 p.m. Wednesday to take the bus to Snow Hill Elementary, where Russell is a special education teacher who works with 3- and 4-year-olds in the prekindergarten program.
Superintendent Lou Taylor presented Russell with the Worcester County Teacher of the Year trophy in her classroom.
“We are very honored and very proud to present to her the Worcester County Teacher of the Year award,” Taylor said. “She is remarkable. She comes in and give her kids at least 110%.”
Russell, a graduate of Stephen Decatur High School, attended Salisbury University and earned a masters in special education from Wilmington University. She’s currently in her eighth year of teaching at Snow Hill Elementary.
“Mrs. Russell is an incredibly dynamic teacher,” said Carrie Sterrs, coordinator of the Teacher of the Year program. “She keeps even our youngest students engaged and excited to learn. It’s an absolute joy to watch her in the classroom.”
At Friday’s banquet at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel, where the winning teacher has traditionally been announced, each of the school system’s 14 candidates were given the opportunity to address the nearly 400-person crowd. Russell used her time to discuss the marigold effect, the gardening practice of using companion plants like marigolds to encourage growth of other plants. She said the concept applied to teaching as well.
“Not only are marigolds positive and nurturing but their color brings happiness,” Russell said. “They are the teachers who move in the ebb and the flows of education and the daily challenges we all encounter. Let your roots and your beliefs become stronger by reaching out and collaborating with teachers across the country through online support groups. Grow taller and stronger. Embrace your color by reaching out to someone who is struggling.”
She encouraged her fellow teachers, whether they were in their fifth year of teaching or their 25th year, to find their sun again.
“If you’re exhausted and you feel like you’ve lost the magic, please take the time to research new strategies,” she said. “How amazing is it in education that we get a multitude of opportunities to grow stronger and to sharpen our path and learn something new. Our students deserve marigolds as teachers and you deserve to be one … I challenge each and every one of you to plant a seed and watch it grow as there is nothing more rewarding and motivating than this.”