Making a Difference…

You can’t do it.

Those are four words no person wants to hear, let alone a young, impressionable student who is simply trying to find their place in this crazy world. They are words that can do lasting damage. They are words that can change the course of a person’s life.

And they are four words that Amy Parent vows never to say.

For Parent, “you can’t do it” is something she heard quite a bit of growing up. Struggling as a student and diagnosed with a learning disability in high school, Parent’s course seemed to be set – and it wasn’t the direction she wanted to go.

But once she got to Marshall University, something changed. She found her way to Marshall’s H.E.L.P. Program, connected with a few good people, and changed her major from pre-pharmacy to education. From there, everything changed.

Parent thrived in her studies to become a teacher and vowed, through it all, to never let her students feel the way she did when she was younger.

“An advisor once told me that I should never and could never be a teacher. That day I decided to be the best teacher I could be for my students,” Parent said. “I want my students to feel like I did when I was working with my tutor and succeeding, not like I felt when I was in school as a child and struggling.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward 24 years as an educator and that hard work and dedication paid off in a big way. For her work and commitment to her students at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington as a second-grade teacher, Parent was named West Virginia’s first-ever winner of the National University System’s Sanford Teacher Award. The award came with a $10,000 prize and validation as an educator who is truly making a difference in the lives of her children.

So how did Parent get here? What did it mean to win this award after her struggles as a student herself? We asked that and much more in this edition of Alumni Spotlight.

HERD HEAVEN: First off, tell us a little about you?

AMY PARENT: I grew up in Huntington and went to Marshall after going to St. Joseph High School. During high school and the beginning of college I worked at Budget Pharmacy and started as a pre-pharmacy major, but changed over to education in the middle of my second year. I graduated with a Bachelors in Elementary Education K-8 in 1994 and a Masters in Early Childhood Development in 1996.

HH: So where has that taken you today?

AP: I am currently a second-grade teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School here in Huntington. I first started teaching in 1995 in Charleston at Sacred Heart Grade School with second graders. I then moved, after three years there, to Raleigh, North Carolina, and stayed there for 17 years teaching first-grade at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School. I had always planned on moving back to the Huntington area because my parents are still here. I wanted to be here for them if they ever needed me. We decided to relocate and make the move “back home.” I am so glad that we did. I miss the people of Raleigh, but love my new school family at St. Joe. This is my 24th year teaching little ones.

HH: So what made you want to go into teaching?

AP: I always loved children and when I was growing up all I knew was that I wanted to do a job that involved helping people. In high school I got my first job at Budget Pharmacy and decided that I wanted to be a pharmacist. But after a year-and-a-half, I went to the first day of physics class and knew this was not the career choice for me. I went to a new advisor and started in the college of ed. I was tutoring and helping children at the time and knew it was something I loved and thought teaching was the right fit for me. I loved my first grade teacher and my seventh grade teacher. They both made learning fun so I wanted to share that feeling with others. I also wanted to inspire children to never give up, no matter their circumstances. A professor/advisor once told me that I should never and could never be a teacher. That day I decided to be the best teacher I could be for my students.

HH: What do you find most rewarding about your job?

AP: The best part about being an educator is seeing the light bulb moments, sharing in successes, and sharing my love of learning and my faith with others. I did not always like school. To be very honest, I hated school most of the time. I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was in high school. I really struggled in school and was told most of the time to just “try harder.” I did not know how to do that until I was paired up with a wonderful tutor at the MU H.E.L.P. Program. She inspired me, helped me, and pushed me beyond what I ever thought I could do. I want to be that someone for my students. I try, daily, to enable each child to feel success in some part of the day. I want my students to feel like I did when I was working with my tutor and succeeding, not like I felt when I was in school as a child and struggling.

HH: From struggling as a student to winning a major award, how did that come about?

AP: I saw a post online about the Sanford Teacher Award and posted that I would love to win for our school. I did not think much about it again after the initial post. I then received an email that I had been nominated by a parent in my class. I found out that two moms in my class had nominated me as well as others in their families. I then had to fill out a questionnaire and write an essay telling them about myself and explaining how I thought I met their criteria. The Sanford Teacher Award is given to teachers who demonstrate enthusiasm for teaching, show warmth toward all students, creates positive learning environments , has positive relationships with students and recognizes student strengths. One teacher in every state was given this award in its inaugural year. Sanford Education Programs and National University Systems came together to present this special award along with a monetary gift.

HH: So what does winning this award mean to you personally?

AP: I feel so blessed, honored, and humbled to win this award. I am excited to be a part of this group of wonderful teachers who each give so much of themselves every day for their students. Teaching is truly my passion and I strive to help each and every child. I love my job, love working with others to help children, and love the smiles, hugs and love I get from the kids. I am excited to be sharing with the Marshall community about how much teaching means to me. I got such a strong foundation from the professors, tutors, and fellow students at MU. I want to spread the word about what Marshall can do for others.

HH: So what advice would you give to prospective and current students looking to get into teaching?

AP: Do it! Teaching is hard work, but it is the most rewarding job. When I work with student-teachers from Marshall in my classroom, I make a point to share the good with the bad. It is such an important job. I want everyone to consider that one teacher they look back and remember with love. You can be that teacher; you can make a difference in the life of a child.

HH: With Marshall meaning so much in your career, what brought you here in the first place?

AP: There was not a question when I was in high school – I was going to Marshall! My sister, my parents, my aunt and uncle went to Marshall. It is just what I knew. I was bleeding green before I knew what that even meant.

HH: Did you have a particular teacher at Marshall that helped you along the way?

AP: I didn’t really have one professor that stands out. There was a whole program that I loved and helped me through. The MU H.E.L.P. Program director, Dr. Barbara Guyer, and my tutor Judy is who I think of most when I think of my time at Marshall. Dr. Guyer convinced me to do what I loved and told me I would be a teacher who helped more because of my struggles. My tutor always said, “you will because you can” whenever I told her that I couldn’t do something. They meant the most to me during my time at MU.

HH: So were there any standout moments from your time at Marshall?

AP: Our undefeated season in football was one of the best times as a fan and my first time getting on the Dean’s List is my favorite memory as a student.

HH: So I guess you could say your story has a pretty happy ending. There are many who struggle in school in similar ways as you, what would you tell those who may be in a similar situation?

AP: Never give up on your dreams! No matter how hard it seems, what struggles you have gone through, what diagnosis you have; find the people who will support you. Get the help you need to succeed and never look back. Surround yourself with loving, supporting people like I had in my family, friends, and tutor. As my kids say with me every morning in our class pledge: choose to do the best in all you do today and every day!

QUICK HITS

HH: Favorite Food?
AP: Italian and Mexican

HH: Favorite Music Genre/Artists?
AP: Classic Rock, Country, Gospel

HH: Favorite Movie?
AP: We Are Marshall (of course)

HH: First Car?
AP: Gold Volkswagen Bug

HH: Hobbies?
AP: Gardening, Boating, Kayaking