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Upstate Parent's 2021 Ten Educators Who Make A Difference

Each January, Upstate Parent features local educators who set the standard for what it means to influence the future. Chosen from your nominations, these professionals – classroom teachers, administrators and more – love their students, encourage them and pave the way for their success. Over the past year, perhaps more than ever, educators have gone beyond their job descriptions in ways none of us could have predicted. They have done so with grace and perseverance and with little fanfare. They deserve our continued support and encouragement. We only wish we could recognize them all.  

Alyssa Byars maintains a full schedule as yearbook advisor and head of the English Department at Dorman Freshman Campus, but she always makes time for students. 

Now in her 13th year as an educator, Byars is paying forward the influence of a teacher in her life.

“Everyone says they want to be a teacher,” she said. “I actually wanted to be an astronaut first and then a teacher. I didn’t know what I wanted to teach until I was in high school. My high school English teacher just inspired me to want to teach high school English students. I knew it, and that’s what I went to school for. I’ve been doing it ever since. I love students. I love the interactions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

This school year, Byars delivers lunch to students in special education classes, but she doesn’t drop and go. Byars visits with them and often reads with them during lunch.

“I want them to know that someone else in this building loves them,” she said. 

In her own classes, Byars wants students to feel valued and to be excited about the worlds they can open through reading.

“My biggest goal for my students is to create lifelong readers and kids who just love books,” she said. 

Tracy Cooper is Assistant Director of the Enoree Career Center, but she doesn’t stay behind a desk. Cooper, now in her 38th year in education, has worked as a related arts educator teaching health and physical education, and she has coached varsity sports, including soccer, basketball, volleyball and track and field. 

Through much of her time in the classroom, Cooper worked as an itinerant teacher, which means she served in every high school in Greenville County. She also worked in middle school administration. Now, she works with career center students from four high schools: Berea, Travelers Rest, Wade Hampton and Carolina. She can often be found standing alongside her students in the culinary lab, in a welding booth or under the hood of a car.

“I’m a doer more than a talker,” Cooper said. “That’s what I love – the creativity, the hands-on doing that happens every day.”

This year, wearing masks means Cooper has to make sure she connects with students in a new way. She said she strives to be real with them.

“I’ve tried to be very intentional about making sure I see their eyes and they know I see them,” she said. “It’s important for me to be authentic with the students and the teachers.”

No matter what the class, Cooper said students need a sense of purpose and belonging. Connecting with adults who care can foster that.

“The students want to know that you want to hear who and where they are as people first and not just a student trying to get a grade or trying to stay out of trouble,” she said. 

Antonio Goodridge invests in every student at Mauldin Elementary, even those he doesn’t teach.

“I always knew that I wanted to serve students, especially those that don’t always get their voices heard,” he said. “I didn’t realize it would be in a special education setting. I just fell in love with it. I realized there was not only a need to have a male educator but a Black male educator, especially in today’s society where male educators are lacking.”

Goodridge works as a resource teacher, pulling students out of classes for small group work, primarily in reading and math. He also goes into classrooms and works with students, and he makes a point to get to know students throughout the school.

“I don’t take being a role model lightly,” he said. “Whenever I can, I make sure I get to know each and every kid. It’s important to make that connection with all of the kids. It also helps not to isolate special education kids, too. When they see you interact with everyone, it kind of removes the stigma of receiving special education services.”

Goodridge does basketball groups with students, plays football with them at recess and often just stops in to say hello.

“It makes your day when you see them light up,” he said. “They smile so big. I love that I can somewhat have an impact on someone’s day. Teaching is a tough profession, but that moment of a smile or an aha moment makes your day worthwhile.”

In just her third year of teaching, Hannah Klumpe has already made a profound impact on her students at Berea Middle School. While seventh grade can be a tough year of growing and changing, Klumpe loves it.

“I genuinely love my job,” she said. “I’ve always thought middle school students were really funny and interesting to be around. The kids really do make it what it is. They’re just old enough to understand the world around them. Their eyes are starting to open, and walking them through it is such a rewarding and enjoyable experience on my end.”

Klumpe grew up in Tennessee, in an area where many of the families struggled financially.

“I’ve seen the role that teachers play in people’s lives,” she said. 

Growing up in a family of educators, Klumpe knew early on that teaching would be a good fit for her.

“I specifically wanted to be a geography teacher since seventh grade when I took geography,” she said.

And now that her dream has come to fruition, Klumpe is genuinely enjoying her time in the classroom, something that is readily apparent to her students and their parents.

“I really think that I’m made for middle school,” she said.

Valerie Mosher never intended to teach. Now, she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“My background is in engineering,” she said. “I started as a chemical engineer.”

After having children, Mosher started working as a part-time educator at Roper Mountain Science Center. Though she went back to engineering for a bit, she returned to RMSC in 2011 to serve as the center’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Specialist, giving hands-on science lessons to students – virtually, for the moment – throughout the Upstate. As a woman in STEM, Mosher gets to have a real impact on her students and serve as a role model.

The challenge of teaching hands-on science is magnified in a year when students are on a screen instead of in the same room, but Mosher is making it work.

“Like many STEM educators, we don’t want to stand up and tell you,” she said. “We want you to do it.”

At the core of her job, Mosher is striving to spark excitement in students about STEM subjects, trading her engineering career for one that has a ripple effect for future scientists and engineers.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s a privilege to teach students. No one is here for the money. We’re here because education is important. I had great teachers and I want to be an inspiring educator.”

Donald Peake doesn’t stick to regular office hours. As Assistant Principal at Hilcrest Middle School, he invests his time in students and their families when they need it, often outside of school. 

“I enjoyed going to school because of the adults that were there,” he said. “They were a positive influence on my life.”

In ninth grade, Peake decided that he wanted to be a math teacher, a role he fulfilled through part of his 22 years in education. Now, he strives to connect with his students, playing basketball with them, visiting with parents in their homes and more. 

“I show that I care by checking on as many as I can daily,” he said. “It’s to show them that I’m not all about discipline and show them that in school, these adults here care about you.”

Though Peake intended to stay in the classroom, other teachers and administrators encouraged him to lead in a new role.

“There are not too many role models like myself – Black, male role models in education,” he said. “Students need to see that I’m a normal person. I’m here. I’m approachable. I’m somebody you can emulate – and that’s all students. I want to be that person that they say, ‘I know him. He’s a good guy.’”

Arian Peterson said “no way” when her grandmother told her that she would be a teacher. But she is now in her 30th year as an educator, teaching fourth grade English Language Arts at Lyman Elementary School.

“I can’t see myself having done a single other thing,” she said. “The kids keep me coming back. Watching them, laughing with them, learning with them – that’s the spark that I need every day. They are what wakes me up and gets me in here every single morning.”

A fixture at her students’ swim meets, basketball games, recitals and more, Peterson truly cares about the young people she teaches. And that is even more important to her than the curriculum. 

“I think the most valuable part for me has been the rapport I have with my students and for them to know that I am there for them beyond being their teacher,” she said. “I want them to know that I care about them more than just as a student. I think that relationship makes the relationship in my classroom stronger. I don’t have a lot of discipline problems and that relationship is why. I want them to know that I want them to be the best human – not just the best student, the best human – they can be.”

Vee Popat is both an artist and an educator, but when he visited family in Greenville, he knew there was a different path ahead. 

Popat now leads the Fine Arts Center, combining his experience as a music teacher, band director and principal to offer a unique opportunity for Greenville County students.

“I’ve always loved the arts and I’ve been a performing saxophonist and taught saxophone lessons, even after I became an administrator,” he said. “The chance to be a servant leader at a school, but all the while get back to my arts roots, was almost too good to be true.”

Popat in now in his 18th year as an educator, with 17 of those in New Jersey. He is already making an impact in the Upstate as a champion of the arts and of nurturing young artists, as well as the universal language they share. 

“This is quite possibly one of the only subjects that we can learn in schools that requires no translation across borders, cultures, religion, age group,” he said. “Beautiful art is appreciated without any translation. Music with a good beat is music with a good beat, no matter what country you’re in. What makes it essential is that it is so unifying. We have a diverse population that comes to school here from all over Greenville County. They get along with one another and bond with one another. It’s a living, breathing example of art bringing people together.”

Allison Rosemond is teaching students – and her colleagues – skills that can serve them well through a pandemic and beyond. 

As a counselor at Greer Middle School, Rosemond focuses on the whole person, leading a mindfulness minute for the school each morning and encouraging teachers to practice self-care. She recently started a Mindfulness Garden Club that will give students the opportunity to learn about organic gardening, working cooperatively and mindful garden practices to ease stress, like garden yoga.

Rosemond started her career as a Spanish teacher, but soon realized that she wanted something different that being in the classroom. She worked with students in career exploration before getting certified in school counseling in 2016. 

“I really enjoy working with middle school students,” she said. “They are at the age where they are very impressionable and they are trying to figure themselves out.”

Rosemond said she was also trying to figure herself out when she started working with them, so she can relate to those struggles. 

“I just clicked with them,” she said. “I understood where they were coming from.”

Throughout the school, Rosemond focuses on meeting the needs of those around her, whether through programs that reduce anxiety or those that meet critical everyday needs, like the Weekender Backpack Program she started to help reduce food insecurity for students. 

“I feel like my biggest mission, particularly this year and considering that 2020 is so different than any other year in education that I’ve experienced, is for students to be able to identify and talk about their feelings and figure out what works for them to find comfort in the situation that they’re in and know that it doesn’t define them, and they can still succeed despite those things,” she said.

Jeffrey Simpson meets kids where they are. Sometimes that’s on the basketball court.

Though he now serves as Principal of Pendleton Elementary School – and is a finalist for South Carolina Elementary School Principal of the Year – Simpson started his career in the classroom and as a coach. He isn’t coaching in his current role, but Simpson is still shaping lives in Pendleton.

“I wanted to give back to my community that gave to me and gave me opportunities,” he said. “I wanted to teach, and if I could change lives in the classroom and on the basketball court, that’s what I was called to do.”

Now, his days spent with elementary school students are simply fun.

“I get to be a kid,” he said. “I get to be in the classroom and be silly and dance with kids.”

With his colleagues and the parents of his students, Simpson said he shares the same vision: serving all students and changing lives.

“That’s what we try to do each and every day,” he said. 

For this recognition, Simpson said the reward is shared.

“I might be the one nominated, but so much credit goes to our parents preparing their students to come to school and our teachers working with our students, and then our students just being amazing,” he said. “I get a chance to be a small part of it.”