[Editor's Note: Come January the Lafayette Education Foundation will honor the best teachers in the parish with an Academy Awards-like ceremony — LEF Teacher Awards. Dozens of teachers are nominated for the awards and volunteers throughout the community delivered the news via the Pin Patrol recently. Kim Wooten was one of those volunteers. Here she tells the story of the teacher who changed her life.]

When it came to my adolescent years, there were two things I couldn’t stand: my inability to produce hair like Reba McEntire and school. After a few botched attempts at perms and makeshift red hair dye, I waved the white flag on one dislike, but held on tightly to the other.

Was I a smart child? I held my own. My ability to learn about acute angles and the capital of Wyoming was not the issue. The problem was what I like to call “The Ugly Duck Syndrome.”

I’m well aware that we have all been there. The awkward stages, name calling, and obsessive need for Abercrombie clothes to fit in — but try telling that to a husky, four-eyed, 11-year-old tomboy with acne.

I was struggling to find my place, until I met Mrs. Stephanie Broussard. Mrs. Stephanie taught seventh- and eighth-grade science and was a fireball of a woman. Even at age 11, I saw how she treated everyone as equals, recognized that everyone had a purpose, and knew we all had the potential to do remarkable things.

Here’s the kicker: She was never my teacher. I was her student aide. I watched her cradle a classroom with wit, sassiness and admiration. She was hard on all of her students, but there was a method to her madness. From the overachiever to the frustrated student about to throw in the towel, she pushed each and every one to be the best versions of themselves.

 

Mrs. Stephanie was a believer. She believed in every child in her class. I was not one of her students but I, too, benefited from this woman with passion, this woman who knew who she was, and this woman who, to this day, I call a very good friend.

 

We all know a teacher who changed the game for us. Thanks to the Lafayette Education Foundation, I am able to pay it forward and meet hundreds of teachers each year who change the game for students in Lafayette Parish.

Every December, hundreds of volunteers visit more than 600 teachers for the LEF Pin Patrol. This event scatters members of the community to almost every school in Lafayette Parish, surprising deserving educators with balloons, flowers and goodies. 

 

The gratitude doesn’t stop there. The following week, the top 16 finalists are recognized on an even bigger scale, furnished with confetti, noise makers, camera crews and media interviews. From December until the end of January, these 16 finalists are treated like rock stars. Huge road banners are made, newspaper articles are written and TV interviews are scheduled. To cap off the appreciation, an Academy Awards-style event is planned at the Heymann Center that the brightest stars in Hollywood would envy. 

 

LEF is, and will forever be, very near and dear to my heart. Executive Director Becky Credeur, Programs Director Etienne Wright and Administrative Assistant Brenda Reamer are the exceptional women behind the non-profit group. They, along with a highly involved 25-member board of directors, continue to partner with educators and the Lafayette community to explore ways to meet the ever-changing needs of today's classrooms, ensuring that every child has the best chance possible for success.

 

I was one of those children. And thanks to Mrs. Stephanie and scores of teachers like her, I may never be Reba, but I can always be Kim.

 
Kim Wooten, center, delivers the good news to LEF Teacher Award nominees during
the annual Pin Patrol. Lisette Henderson, left, is a Comeaux High School teacher
nominated in the inspirational category. Comeaux English teacher Matthew Canone,
right, was nominated in the high school category. 

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