Mt. Vernon Middle School (MVMS) Seventh Grade Social Studies teacher, Ms. Deb Thomas, is a Top 10 Finalist for the Indiana Teacher of the Year. Ms. Thomas has been exemplifying the use of student engagement, cultural awareness, and community learning in her classroom at MVMS for 29 years.
Ms. Thomas increases student engagement in her classroom through a variety of activities and teaching methods. Her students have tasted food from different cultures, recreated historical architecture using everyday materials, and have even explored some basic Mandarin vocabulary from the high school Mandarin teacher, Miss Lin. Through collaborative and experiential learning, she is able to help her classes learn a variety of perspectives about other cultures around the world. She models exceptional teaching and student engagement daily in her classroom.
Ms. Thomas consistently cares for her students and fellow colleague. She is leading a mental health initiative to benefit her students, Mt. Vernon staff, and the educational community as a whole. She believes that Indiana schools should be provided with additional tools that are needed to support children who have experienced trauma or grief.
Not only does Ms. Thomas advocate for the support of students, but staff as well. She is urging Hoosier lawmakers to propose and support legislation to increase awareness, resources, and training for trauma and bereavement so educators are better able to help their students. She is also encouraging the Indiana Department of Education to partner with school districts and provide educators with additional information about mental health programs, employee assistance programs, alternatives for crisis response, e-counseling and new digital tools that are easily accessible.
Ms. Thomas states, “Children and adolescents who have experienced grief and trauma need a safer, more supportive learning environment filled with well-trained adults to succeed; therefore, statewide trauma-informed education is critical.”
In times of tragedy, Ms. Thomas wants to encourage students to realize the importance of hope. She believes that students need ways to confront their grief which is why she is pursuing a grant for ceramic heart kits from Hearts of Hope. Hearts of Hope is a non-profit organization that strives to help others through art. Her goal is to give each of the former students on her team the chance to paint his or her own ceramic heart to donate to another who is grieving.
Ms. Thomas shared, “By encouraging someone else, I want students to realize that our legacy of losing one of our Mt. Vernon Middle School teachers is not one of darkness and tragedy, but one of light and hope. That is the most important lesson of all.”
Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation wishes nothing but the best for Ms. Deb Thomas in her exemplary endeavors to guide Indiana schools in a positive direction. Her lasting impact in her students’ lives, her colleagues’ lives, and now with her statewide initiative to positively impact students and educators throughout Indiana with new mental health tools, makes her undoubtedly worthy of this award.