Fourth grade started off as a tough year for Grace Pritchett.
Her parents got divorced that year and she had difficulty finding her place, she recalled.
But it was the work of her fourth-grade teacher, Debbie Wills, at New Market Elementary School that gave her a sanctuary that was fun and stress-free.
“It was hard when my parents got divorced that year,” Pritchett said. “But [Wills] was always so fun and bubbly and made school exciting. She made everything fun again.”
That’s why Pritchett, a senior on the Linganore soccer team, chose Wills as her teacher to honor during Linganore High School’s first Teacher Appreciation Night on Tuesday evening.
All 21 varsity soccer players chose a teacher to honor as part of one of the team’s community service projects. Eighteen of the 21 invited teachers attended the game and were greeted with flowers and a bag of gifts thanking them for the impact they have made.
“I’m so shocked and honored,” Wills said. “It was just a regular Tuesday for me, and now here I am being honored like this. ... It means so much because it was eight years [ago] and there’s so many students, you never really know who you’re impacting. It just reiterates why we do what we do.”
Each year Linganore soccer coach Howie Putterman puts together a community service project for the girls to work on to give back. This year, though, he wanted to challenge his players to develop the idea for the project.
So he asked them what group of people they wanted to serve. The players said they wanted to recognize teachers.
A teacher himself, Putterman nearly teared up talking about it.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever sat back as a coach and said, ‘Well, my work is done,’” Putterman said. “I can just go coach soccer now. It really does almost move me to tears knowing how mature these girls are and how they appreciate the people who have helped make them who they are.”
Putterman had seen how schools had done teacher appreciation nights across the country, and thought that would be a good way to recognize teachers. Each player picked a teacher that made an impact on their life, and they were invited to the game.
At halftime, players lined up next to their teachers and showered them with gifts as each teacher had their name read aloud during the ceremony.
Haley Barge was joined by her third-grade teacher, Teresa King, whom she credits with her academic success. Barge remembers third grade as the year that she started receiving letter grades on her report cards. That year she was struggling and in danger of falling behind.
But King saw potential in Barge, so she stepped up to offer extra help to make sure she got caught up and was prepared to move on to fourth grade.
“She was really helpful for me with math,” Barge said. “She worked with me individually to help me learn the way I learn, and show me real-world uses for what she was teaching.”
Pritchett credited Wills for pushing her to use her voice. On Veterans Day in fourth grade, the school held a ceremony honoring veterans and each year Wills picks a student to read a quote to the school. Wills chose Pritchett to read a quote by George W. Bush.
“I just felt so empowered by that and it was a really important moment for me,” Pritchett said. “I’m really thankful to have had a teacher like her.”