- January 7, 2021
When they arrive in Bunnell Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jackie Ricks' class, 70% of students are at least one grade level behind and 20% are two grade levels behind. By the end of the year, 70% are meeting expectations.
Ricks, who teaches ESOL and ESE students alongside general education students, has spent her teaching career at the elementary school she attended as a girl.
"As a student of Flagler County Schools, it has always been a reminiscent feeling teaching at BES, my elementary school. I feel like I never left!" Ricks wrote in a one-page biographical summary as part of her teacher of the year application packet.
"She teaches students to be kind and empathetic because she is that role model. No one is left out and no one goes unseen. Jackie has had students purposely chosen for her class because of this quality."
— MARLENE VAZQUEZ, ESOL program specialist
Ricks, a native Floridian and a graduate of the elementary education bachelor's' program at UCF and the reading master's program at Grand Canyon University, also has a degree in Exceptional Student Education and holds endorsements in ESOL and ASD, and is working on her gifted endorsement.
She has taught at Bunnell Elementary School since 2005.
"The many helpful and talented teachers at BES have helped me fill my 'bag of tricks' and become the strong and dedicated teacher I am today," she wrote. "While educating the youth of tomorrow is a pressing and important aspect of teaching, I have always focused much of my attention to making connections with all of the diverse students in my classroom. I will continue to look at the whole child rather than what is written on paper, for I know that this is truly the heart of teaching."
To help students improve their reading skills, Ricks uses writing.
"Research has shown that if students write daily within all subject areas, there will be evidence of significant improvement in their reading ability," she wrote. "Every morning, my students respond to a journal entry. Afterwards, we review the topic as a whole class. ... I believe if a student can write it, they can also read it."
When Ricks noticed that her kindergarten students wished for the kinds of after-school activity options available to older students, Ricks helped form a club — the BES Cheer Pups, which has been remade into the BES Rhythmic Dance Pups since the pandemic began — specifically for students in kindergarten through third grade.
The club, which Ricks has now coached for five years, quickly became popular.
"We accept 30 students and have over 60 students sign up before 9:10 am the day after sending home permission forms," Ricks wrote.
In a letter of reference for Ricks' Teacher of the Year application, Bunnell Elementary School Assistant Principal Cari Hankerd wrote that Ricks fosters a positive, respectful environment among students and uses instructional methods that focus on collaboration.
"Her positivity and welcoming spirit can not be overstated," Hankerd wrote.
Hankerd wrote of a day when a challenging student was in Hankerd's office, and Hankerd told the boy that they'd need to sort out his situation quickly because she had an appointment coming up to interview a new potential teacher.
She asked the student for his thoughts on what she should look for in a teacher candidate. "Someone like Ms. Ricks!" the boy said.
"I found his answer particular endearing, as Ms. Ricks had been this student's teacher several years ago," Hankerd wrote.
In a letter of reference for Ricks, Lindsay Achins wrote that when Ricks was Achins' daughter's second-grade teacher last year, Ricks smoothly transitioned the students into virtual learning.
"In a time of chaos and fear, Mrs. Ricks was the glue that held our class together," Achins wrote. "We knew we could make it through anything with her as our teacher."
Ricks wrote that the nomination for Teacher of the Year will inspire her to do even more.
"Having the opportunity to be recognized for this title has given me a newfound strength to continue to push forward in effectively educating our youth and creating small scholars who will one day become our future leaders," she wrote.