Former Norwood Elementary student seeks to honor teacher with courage award

Most people, if they are fortunate, have been around certain individuals who make such an indelible impact on their lives that their influence is never forgotten.

For David Deese, that person was Barbara Foster, his first grade teacher at Norwood Elementary, he said during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s Stanly County Board of Education meeting.

Due to her impact as an educator, Deese, speaking on behalf of his classmates, asked the school board to create the Barbara Foster Courage Award “to recognize any educator or student who exhibits courage for the betterment of all.” He also asked that her specific classroom be named the Barbara Foster classroom. He told the board he would gladly pay for any costs.

“This has been on my mind for 56 years and I only got the courage right now to talk about it,” said Deese, who lives in Albemarle.

Although he learned much in Foster’s class, including that everything in the universe is made up of atoms, which fascinated him, her “most enduring lesson” came in the way she conducted herself in 1967, when she became the school’s first Black teacher.

Despite protests by some in the community, Foster remained resolute in her determination to educate her students, he said. Several of the kids’ mothers, as a sign of solidarity, stood around the classroom during the first day of school in August to prevent any problems from occurring.

Several years later, when asked why the mothers remained in Foster’s classroom, Deese’s mother told him: “The devil himself could not have interrupted that class that day.”

“Despite the stressful situation, Ms. Foster conducted our classroom professionally that day and for the rest of the year, as if nothing was wrong,” Deese said. “She always put the education of her students first.”

Aware of how hard it must have been to teach in an all-white school, Deese said Foster “is the most courageous person I’ve ever known.”

Board chairperson Glenda Gibson noted the school district needed to get in touch with Deese to allow for follow-up conversations regarding his request.

“That was touching, Mr. Deese, extremely touching,” Gibson said.

Deese told the SNAP Wednesday that Foster first taught at Lakeview, a Black school in the town, prior to her time at Norwood Elementary.

He also said he did not contact Foster, who lives in Huntersville, about his proposal.

Foster went on to become one of the first kindergarten teachers in the state in 1973, when Norwood was one of the schools selected from a statewide lottery system to begin offering kindergarten classes, according to one of her colleagues, Pam Lambert, known back then as Pam Morton.

“She was a class act,” Lambert said. “She was a beautiful lady and so well-mannered.”

Neither Deese nor Lambert were sure how long Foster taught at Norwood.

“Miss Foster’s courage at a stressful time, together with her devotion to students and their educations should be an example for educators everywhere,” Deese told the SNAP. “That is her legacy.”