Teacher of the Year has found inspiration through mother, past teachers

One key accomplishment for Meredith Howell this school year has been the creation of a Holocaust Literature elective, which she began teaching for the first time this semester at South Stanly High School. It’s the first of its kind across the district.

Having made several trips to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., over the years, Howell has always had a passion for conveying the importance of such a critical time in world history to her students.

She is also set to take part in an intensive one-week Holocaust Education Seminar in Poland this summer as part of a $2,500 scholarship she received last year from the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). The trip was scheduled to occur last summer, but was postponed due to the war in Ukraine. She will visit several concentration camps, most notably Auschwitz-Birkenau, and several cities, including Warsaw and Krakow.

Howell, 40, has repeatedly made the material come to life for her students, taking them to visit the museum in D.C. in April and having Margot Lobree, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor living in Greensboro, virtually speak with her students earlier this month. They even read books to students at Aquadale Elementary as part of Read Across America Day.

Howell is proud that her students, even the ones who might not be as successful in other classes, have embraced the course and have cultivated a greater appreciation for the many hardships that people like Lobree have gone through just to survive.

Helping to spearhead and pilot the class is just one example of Howell’s passion for her profession and for connecting with her students.

And it’s why it was no surprise when Howell was selected as the 2022-2023 Stanly County Schools’ Teacher of the Year. She had already been selected as South Stanly’s Teacher of the Year, the second time she had received the award.

The honor represents a full-circle moment for Howell, a Stanly County native and South graduate.

“I’m no more qualified than anyone else in this room, to be honest,” Howell said about her first reaction. “I feel like this year, things just fell into place for me to have a really, really good year.”

Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis called Howell “a dynamic professional educator who knows how to engage her students in a way that maximizes learning and builds relationships.”

“She enhances her student’s educational experience by making real-world connections using various activities and experiences,” Dennis added.

Inspired by others

Much of her success as an educator can be traced to several people in her life who helped shape the teacher she has become.

Howell always wanted to be a teacher. This was because her mother was a teacher’s assistant and someone she looked up to and admired.

“I never really saw myself doing anything else and if I did see myself doing anything else, I kind of always came back to education and teaching because it was important in my household,” she said.

As a student at South, Howell was inspired by two teachers in particular: Tara Furr, a French teacher and the yearbook advisor, and Kristi Hedrick, an English teacher who is still an educator at South.

“She let me lead and showed me what it was like to be a good leader,” Howell said of Furr.

Howell appreciates that Hedrick challenged her as a student. She took several of Hedrick’s Advanced Placement courses, which better prepared her for college — and for life as a teacher.

Now as colleagues, “she is my teacher best friend,” Howell said. “If I ever need to ask questions for advice…she is literally my first go-to person. We’ve just clicked ever since I came to teach here.”

Howell said she regularly votes for Hedrick as the school’s Teacher of the Year, a nod to her impact on her life.

Forming bonds with her students 

In describing her teaching philosophy, Howell said she strives to develop connections with each of her students and works to meet them where they are.

She has gotten to know a variety of students this semester, as she teaches a standard inclusion class, a connections block with students who are at risk of failing, an AP class and the Holocaust course.

“It’s such a wide gamut of needs and I’ve really honed in on making sure each kid is seen individually,” Howell said, noting her teaching style can often change depending on the class she is teaching. “My inclusion students in my first block need different things than my AP students in my third block.”

She said whenever she is around her students and helping them, “I feel like we have a little family.”

Howell enjoys celebrating her students’ successes, from scoring high exam grades to making progress in class.

“It’s different needs for different students and I think that’s what keeps me going,” she said.

What keeps Howell energized after so many years is that she has a genuine passion for what she teaches her students. This is evident with the myriad learning opportunities she created for her students in the Holocaust course.

“If I’m excited about it, my students also see that excitement,” she said.