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It’s refreshing to hear a story about teachers going above and beyond for students; especially, during a district UIL competition between opposing schools. That’s what North Lamar High School UIL social studies coach Dennis Hodgkiss shared after witnessing teachers going the extra mile to teach a life-long lesson.
When North Lamar freshman Kay Edwards turned in her Social Studies Contest questionnaire during the District 13 AAA Spring Academic meet held March 21 in Mt. Pleasant, she didn’t realize that she had misunderstood the rules. This was her first time to actually take a social studies test because she had been a late substitute. She had received some quick instructions and encouragement from the social studies coach, was given a copy of the selected book to read, and some study notes — all only three days before the competition.
When she finished the contest she handed it to the directors, Cheryl Brown of Paris High School and Bettie Stagg from Pittsburg High School. Diligently, they looked at her paper to make sure she had placed her contest number on every page and to make sure everything was in order. That’s when they noticed that Edwards had left some of the questions blank. They conferred with each other for a few seconds and then said to Edwards, “You need to keep your test and finish answering all the questions.” A little startled, Edwards took the paper back and answered the questions she had skipped.
Having competed in events where it is better to leave a question blank rather than answer it incorrectly, Edwards assumed that she should do that in social studies. Brown and Stagg instructed several other students who had left blanks to take back their papers and finish them as well.
“We didn’t see anything wrong with pointing out to the students that they had not completed the test and asking them if they wanted to do so,” said Stagg who is a 42 year veteran of the classroom with teaching experience in Louisiana and Texas. She taught at Mt. Pleasant High School for 13 years coaching several students to the state level of competition in social studies and has been at Pittsburg High School for the past seven years. Brown has taught for 28 years, all at Paris High School, coaching the social studies team for the past four years.
Brown agreed with Stagg saying, “I only did what I would want someone to do for my students. As contest directors we are there to guide the students to see that they are not penalized for innocent mistakes. “
Both Brown and Stagg adhere to the idea that the most important thing for the UIL Social Studies Contest to do is to train students to have an historical perspective and to improve their reading, writing, and thinking skills.
Stagg observed, “Sure, it is great to win, but it is more important for students to learn to work and excel in different areas to become well-rounded people.” Brown agreed, adding, “I wouldn’t change how the situation was handled.”
After the contests were graded, Edwards was shocked to learn that she had earned first place in the competition and will advance to region competition. She would never have had the opportunity for this exciting experience if Brown and Stagg had not placed concern for students above contest outcome.
“As coaches, we want to push the students to do their best,” Stagg said. “There is more at stake here than winning and losing. We want the students to be the best they can be.” Brown added, “. . . at this level every student needs to be given the benefit of the doubt and a chance to succeed. “
“Certainly, the UIL motto, ‘Making a World of Difference,’ is more than a motto for UIL social studies coaches Cheryl Brown and Bettie Stagg,” said Hodgkiss. “For them it is a time-honored professional creed that drives them to provide the best instruction, most effective guidance, and most positive experience possible for students. And not only are their students benefitting from their practiced professionalism and expertise, but they are having a positive impact on students from other Texas schools as well.”
“It is our responsibility as teachers and coaches to help train them before they get to the higher levels of competition – not just our students, but all students,” Brown concluded.
Certainly, Edwards would agree. “I am so excited to have the opportunity to compete in social studies at the region level. Who knows what may happen?” the enthusiastic freshman said.