‘School Mom’ Teacher of the Year

Capri Salaam, a social studies teacher at North Little Rock Middle School who strives to bring American history and geography to life for her students, was named Arkansas’ 2023 Teacher of the Year at a a surprise event on Friday.

The announcement was made at a student assembly billed as a celebration of the college’s sports and cheering teams. But Salaam – named one of four semi-finalists for the Best Teacher award earlier this year – knew she was to receive life-changing recognition on Friday when she saw her husband Taveed Salaam among the crowds in the school gymnasium.

Salaam was cited by the state selection committee for her innovative teaching practices, her ability to connect with students from diverse backgrounds, and her efforts to stay connected with her students after they leave her school. class.

Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key was on hand for Friday’s presentation. He asked the students about the meaning of MVP – most valuable player; HOF — Hall of Fame; and GOAT – Greatest of All Time. The final acronym was ATOY – Arkansas Teacher of the Year – and he called Salaam at the gym to present him with an enlarged check for $14,000 before wildly cheering on students and co-workers.

“It’s very surreal,” Salaam said after the presentation during which she periodically wiped away tears. “I feel incredibly blessed, loved and supported right now,” she added. “It means a lot to represent the teachers and educators of Arkansas – the people who dedicate their lives from time to time to serve our children and the community.”

In addition to the grand prize of $14,000 and $2,000 for being a semi-finalist and finalist — all provided by the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville — Salaam, 36, will also receive a year off from his job at from July. That year, she will serve as a teacher ambassador for the Arkansas Department of Education and an ex-officio member of the state Board of Education.

Salaam has been a teacher at North Little Rock since 2015 and, since 2018, a lead social studies teacher in several classrooms, which means she coaches and collaborates with other teachers in lesson planning and other assignments in addition to teaching. to teach his own American history lessons. , geography and history of Arkansas, said Elise Hampton, principal of North Little Rock Middle School.

Seventh and eighth graders in Salaam’s classes conduct a crime scene investigation into the assassination of then-President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth.

Students dress in lab coats to perform a mock autopsy of injured former president Andrew Jackson, to determine the state of his health and whether his medical conditions – including bullets lodged in his torso as a result of a duel – affected his sanity and leadership abilities.

In yet another lesson, paper balls are used to re-enact trench warfare.

“I bring it to life with hands-on activities, where they can experience it even though it’s happened in the past,” Salaam said of his classes.

“For the story to really resonate with our children, they have to breathe it, feel it, speak it,” Salaam said. “We tie it to the present. We find the parallels between the past and modern times.”

Social studies teacher Elizabeth Roberts called her homeroom teacher a “working sister” and said Salaam deserved the state honor the most.

“She’s excellent. She builds relationships with our students. She goes above and beyond to help anyone in the building, whenever they need anything,” Roberts said.

Abbi Herreid, a trainee teacher working with the social studies department, also called Salaam an amazing teacher.

“My favorite thing she does is she can tell when students aren’t feeling well or are feeling mentally depressed,” Herreid said. At which point, Salaam excuses the student from the academics to go to a corner of the classroom devoted to mental health to congregate.

Zami’ya Smith, a student at North Little Rock Middle School, said Salaam is like a school mom who fills her students with joy.

“If you think you should give up something, Ms. Salaam will be your trust. She will be your happiness,” Zami’ya said.

Salaam said after receiving the award that as Teacher of the Year, she would like to raise awareness of the importance of social and emotional learning for students and raise awareness of the importance of early intervention and therapies to meet the needs of students so that they can be successful learners. .

A Helena-West Helena native and mother of a 5-year-old and step-mom to a 14- and 25-year-old, Salaam said she was a former 911 dispatcher, nanny, daycare operator and a charter school teacher. . She once thought about pursuing a law degree until a law enforcement colleague told her that her godson’s class had lost their teacher and that Salaam should step in to help.

She attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and community college in her hometown before earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Central Arkansas. She holds a Master of Arts in College Education from Arkansas Tech University and a Masters of Special Education from Harding University. She is working on a Graduate Certificate in Education in Learning Systems Technology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, with an expected completion date of 2023.

Salaam is licensed to teach English and special education in addition to social studies and, while currently a social studies teacher, she mixes English classes including writing into her lesson plans. .

Governor Asa Hutchinson, in a prepared statement, praised Salaam.

“From establishing an inviting culture for students by hosting cultural events throughout the year, to ensuring students have access to high school ACT prep programs, financial aid workshops, and programs of tutoring, Ms. Salaam’s dedication extends far beyond the time she spends with her students in the classroom,” Hutchinson said.

Salaam is one of eight teachers from the North Little Rock School District to be named Arkansas Teacher of the Year. The first dates back to 1972.

Gallery: Arkansas Teacher of the Year

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