A Kernel of Knowledge: Jessica Casey named 2017 Teacher of the Year

A kernel of knowledge: Jessica Casey named 2017 Teacher of the Year

By Amy Crawford, Sun Staff Writer Apr 25, 2017 Updated 6 hrs ago
Jessica Casey’s family is in the seed business, but it’s not broccoli she’s sowing in Yuma County.
Casey, named 2017’s Yuma County Teacher of the Year at the 30th annual educator awards banquet of the same name Tuesday evening at the Yuma County Civic and Convention Center, instead has been sowing the seeds of knowledge for the past 10 years in various county schools.

“The blessing of working in education is that we provide a gift that continues to give,” the Gowan Science Academy sixth-grade educator told her fellow teaching compatriots. “We inspire further than we realize and our lessons are intangible long after our students leave our classrooms.”

Casey credited her inspiration to become a teacher to her first-grade teacher at Otondo Elementary School, Rebecca Batey, who “lit a fierce love of learning in me at the age of 6. She had this magical power to make lessons come alive. I hung on her every word, and worked diligently to meet her expectations.”

Casey, who was educated in Yuma’s public schools from kindergarten through college, said that the most “important lesson that she taught me though was that I was capable of great things as long as I set my mind to it and put in really hard work. This lesson is something that I am still working on each day as I inspire to be the kind of quality educator that she was.”

As teacher of the year, Casey received a trophy, a three-hour credit hour voucher for use at NAU-Yuma, a $1,000 donation in her name to Rotary International’s polio eradication efforts, and a seven-day trip for two to Hawaii, courtesy of Yuma Investment Group.

The Education Foundation of Yuma County and Yuma Rotary Clubs put on the teacher of year banquet with the support of local businesses. Awards are given in seven main educator categories: first-year teachers, primary grades (K-3), intermediate (4-6), junior high/middle school (7th-8th), high school, special area (K-6) and an overall winner.

Gary Knox’s Jennifer Blake, the primary teacher of the year, said that she had “no words to describe how I feel right now,” upon receiving her award.

The intermediate TOY, Stephanie Hebebrand of Desert Mesa Elementary, almost missed her semi-finalist interview because she was in labor, Crane Schools Superintendent Bob Klee quipped as Hebebrand made her way to the stage. Her son, a few weeks old, could be heard crying from the back of the room.

Somerton Middle School’s Jessica Martinez noted that while teaching can be very difficult “it is also very rewarding. I thank you for what you do and encourage you to keep doing it.”
Yuma Union High School District’s Joe Daily, who teaches and coaches at Gila Ridge, didn’t have a speech prepared as he was announced as the high school winner, but kept the advice he gives his own athletes -- “be humble and go from the heart.”

“Whatever you do,” said K-6 Special Area winner Elaine Conway of McGraw Elementary, “you’re all important in the lives of children.”

The Education Foundation of Yuma also handed out honors including the Professional Educator Award to Taylor McBride and Jay Sheridan Sheridan’s family accepted his award, as the longtime Yuma High teacher died last September. The Outstanding Organization honor went to Shay Oil Company of Yuma. The Special Achievement honor was bestowed upon Victor Meda and Margaret Wapler. Lenore Stuart, the first female Hispanic Yuma County Supervisor was honored with the Francis Woodard Award; and the Estelle Dingess Award went to former Yuma High graduate Bob Gray, who was the keynote speaker for the evening.

The Teacher of the year awards were presented by presidents of the various Rotary Clubs of Yuma and the Rotary International District Governor Sheryl Christenson.

Casey, who after the banquet noted that many of the award winners from Tuesday’s ceremonies were from agricultural families, planted her own challenge for the future of education in Yuma County.

“I challenge you to return to our schools tomorrow with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication to ensure that our students all leave with the lessons they need from the educators they meet,” she said.

2017 Teacher of the Year Winners

First Year Teacher: Ashley Aitken, Yuma High School, Yuma Union High School District
Primary: Jennifer Blake, Gary Knox Elementary, Crane Elementary School District
Intermediate: Stephanie Hebebrand, Desert Mesa Elementary, Yuma Elementary School District One
Junior High/Middle School: Jessica Martinez, Somerton Middle School, Somerton School District
High School: Joe Daily, Gila Ridge High School, Yuma Union High School District
K-6 Special Area: Elaine Conway, McGraw Elementary, Yuma Elementary School District One
Overall TOY: Jessica Casey, Gowan Science Academy, Crane Elementary School District
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