An Adair County native who currently teaches in Taylor County was honored at Campbellsville University’s 36th annual Excellence in Teaching Award Program on May 14. To jump to Brooke Downey’s info, click here.
By Joan C. McKinney, director, Office of University Communications, and Scarlett Birge, student news writer
As a young child, Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council for Postsecondary Education (CPE), was often reminded by his parents of the importance of an education and the opportunities it would open up for him.
“They pushed education, and they pushed it hard,” Thompson said at Campbellsville University’s 36th annual Excellence in Teaching Award Program May 14 in Ransdell Chapel.
The Excellence in Teaching Award Program honored 218 teachers throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky from 76 districts and/or private schools.
Growing up in Crawfish, Kentucky, in Clay County, the son of a coal-mining father who was illiterate, Thompson saw his father work long hours in the mines.
“My father always said, ‘Boy, you better get an education because if you don’t, you will break your back in the coal mine,’” Thompson said.
Thompson said his mother, who held an eighth-grade education, told him, ‘If you get an education, you’ll learn to read and write and how to count your money. If you do that, they can’t take it away from you.’
“She saw Jim Crow in full effect, where people would take stuff away from you if you didn’t have an education. I took that as education would give me economic prosperity. She was literally saying you would have the knowledge to problem serve and understand how to protect those things around you.”
Thompson, a first-generation high school student, congratulated the honored teachers and said they “fully understand the essence of learning.”
“I am a teacher,” Thompson said. He told the teachers it’s all about learning. “You are a role model, and you are a force of love at times,” Thompson said.
He told the teachers they need to figure out the good in students and tell students they can be something special.
“Teachers’ engagement in and out of the classroom have the biggest effect on students’ lives,” Thompson said. “That’s the power you have.
“If you won an award today, you did something.”
He said maybe you didn’t follow the rules, but “sometimes you have to break out of the same old stuff that didn’t work. The status quo holds people back.”
He said the teachers have learned how to collaborate and how to reach levels of the students that haven’t been reached before.
“It’s the idea that you understand what learning is,” he said.
Teachers have to find ways to share with students so they have an opportunity to learn and excel.
“You have to teach self-actualization. You have to look at values and connect those values with what to do as a teacher,” Thompson said.
He said CPE focuses heavily on the disenfranchised. He said students see a teacher reaching out to a student who is disfranchised, and they feel good when a teacher helps that student who could have been written off.
“I appreciate you. I appreciate you because you have learned the essence of learning,” Thompson said. He urged them to celebrate with those you care about and to think how they got to this point.
Thompson congratulated Campbellsville University on her enrollment and said students are receiving a good education at the university.
Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, welcomed the teachers and their families and said, “Campbellsville University’s School of Education is committed to education. Today is about you and your sacrifices and commitment. This is one of my favorite events right up there with commencement.” She gave the invocation.
Dr. Lisa Allen, dean of the School of Education, welcomed the teachers to the program. She said teachers take risks and are innovative, problem solvers, mentors and leaders.
Dr. John Chowning, executive assistant to the president for government, community and constituent relations, read the names of the teachers in each district.
CU Sound, comprised of Campbellsville University students Jacob Hayes and Collin White as well as Kaylee Lawrence, a senior at Taylor County High School, sang two songs. Jamie Lawrence, executive director of ministry and church outreach, was accompanist.
Dr. Shane Garrison, vice president for enrollment services, said Campbellsville University has the most private university affordable master’s programs in the School of Education, and the university is the largest private provider of dual-credit courses in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, serving 4,000 students in 58 high schools and Christian academies. He said, “We believe in teachers.”
Garrison gave the benediction.
A total of 4,586 Kentucky teachers have been honored since the program began in 1987 with assistance from Earl Aaron and the Ward, Cundiff and Aaron Memorial Fund. The purpose of the program is to recognize the quality teaching and learning taking place in the school systems throughout Kentucky.
The Excellence in Teaching Awards program is in partnership with Lexington’s CBS-affiliate, WKYT-TV.
The teachers are selected by their school districts in each grade level (preschool/elementary, middle and high school).
One of the teachers honored is an Adair County native and current Adair County resident.
Brooke Downey, of Columbia, has taught first grade at Taylor County Primary Center since 2017. She formerly taught kindergarten at Adair County Primary Center from 2015 until 2017.
She received her Bachelor of Arts from Lindsey Wilson College in 2015 and her Master of Arts from the University of the Cumberlands in 2017. She is a 2011 graduate of Adair County High School.
She is the daughter of Gina and Johnny Harmon of Columbia. She is married to Chad Downey, and they have one child, Emmie.