GRADY COUNTY TEACHER OF THE YEAR Whitney Brown is pictured with her parents, George and Linda Johnson; husband, Michael Brown; and one of her students and the current head chef of the Culinary Arts program, Callie Lauder, at Friday morning’s announcement ceremony held at the VanLandingham Center.
Cairo High School’s Whitney Brown was named Grady County’s Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020 during a special ceremony at the VanLandingham Center on Friday. Also recognized during the event were the six other school-level teachers of the year for Grady County.
Brown, who has a background in baking and catering, has pioneered the culinary arts program at Cairo High, teaching the last three years in the family and consumer sciences field.
Todd Gainous, CEO of the College and Career Academy and director of the CTAE program at Cairo High, says he is proud of Brown’s accomplishment. Gainous says, “Ms. Brown is extremely passionate about the culinary arts program at Cairo High School and this passion resonates through her students. Anyone who has been to an event catered by the culinary arts students has been most impressed with their skill in cooking, but also with the way they carry themselves at the events. Ms. Brown is the driving force behind this program and as CTAE director, I take great pride in the fact that she has been selected Grady County’s Teacher of the Year.”
Brown says she begins each school year talking with students about a “growth mindset” to show they can learn from failures and persevere. “If students are equipped with this mindset, all other lessons, subjects or life events will give them causes to rise to the occasion and find a way to grow into a citizen that successfully contributes to our society,” Brown states.
When asked about a specific project that “contributed to the improvement of overall school culture”, Brown points to an effort started last year to develop a food truck that would contribute to the community while giving students opportunities to learn career readiness skills. The truck is part of a NourishGrady project planned by the culinary arts students. “Our goal is to integrate skills of agriculture, business and marketing, drafting and design, accounting, culinary arts, environmental efficiency, automotive mechanics, statistics and economics, graphic design, and even fine arts,” states Brown. The Grady County Board of Education is collaborating with the culinary arts department to finalize the food truck plans, according to the teacher of the year.
Taking students on food tours is one way Brown exposes them to various options available to them after school. She says she has a standing relationship with Taste of Thomasville tour, and plans to expand the experience to tours in other Georgia cities. “My hope is that they would return to our rural community, inspired and ready to make a lasting footprint on our small town,” she writes in her award application.
Pointing to poverty as a challenge, Brown says poverty is not only financial. She says with it comes relational, emotional and social poverty. “Once students are trapped in the generational poverty cycle, it becomes more and more difficult to convince them that they are worthy of a meaningful life, performing with excellence at a job that they love. They often believe that they are capable of no more than what they see all around them once they return home. This is a cycle that we as educators must be determined to break and eliminate,” Brown states. She says she hopes teaching grit and growth mindset will help students.
Brown is a 2004 graduate of Cairo High, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Brewton Parker College in 2007. She began her teaching career in 2008 at Baconton Charter School then moved to Tift/Area Academy in 2011. In 2013, she transferred to her alma mater and has remained there ever since.
Other teachers of the year are Kiara Jones at Eastside Elementary, Lindsey Phillips at Northside Elementary, Kaye Lamar at Shiver, Stephanie Wisham at Southside Elementary, Heidi Graziano at Washington Middle and Jessica Hancock at Whigham.