We Are Not Forgotten: How One Teacher’s Dedication Brought Rewards for Many

Alicia Conerly blog header

“Mrs. Conerly, you really do care about us!” “Mrs. Conerly why do you do this for us?” “ Mrs. Conerly no one has ever helped us like this before!” In my time at South Pike Senior High School, these were continuous comments from my scholars for five years. I soon began to know why. I was teaching in a low-income, Title I, critical needs school—and it showed. Many of my students were from single parent, female homes, operating solely on the income provided by their mothers. Many of my students were parents to siblings, to their own children, or about to become parents. Some were retainers or could not read past elementary grade level. I realized it was up to me to empower and encourage them. And I wondered how exactly I was supposed to do that with the resources that I had (or lack thereof)? And I answered the challenge, with a big “YES!” It took a little bit of faith and a whole lot of dedication.

Against All Odds

As I began this journey I knew that the end goal was to ensure that my students were no longer forgotten. That meant it was going to take me getting the word out to cause people to remember them. I knew that in order to do that I needed to do something to cause “good attention and awareness” to be brought to our school and school district. I began to do research once I was guided in the right direction by Past National Science Teachers Association President Juliana Texley. I came upon the NSTA site for awards and recognitions. Being an educator of color I decided to try for the Shell Urban Educator Development Award…and I won! Finally, our rural urban area was on the map! All because I filled out an application with the odds stacked against me. The following year I was encouraged to compete for the Shell Lab Science Challenge. And once again, I won. Once again with the odds stacked against me. As always, not thinking about myself, I decided to enter the competition as a team. A 20-plus-year veteran, a lead teacher, a first-year teacher, and I brought home the grand prize of $20,000!

Our students were overwhelmed with astonishment that we were in the news for something other than low test scores or mediocre athletics. They made it known that they were no longer forgotten! Someone actually cared enough to bring funds and a winning spirit back to them.

NSTA awards images

Opening Doors and Sharing the Vision

Winning has opened so may doors. My name is now known both locally and nationally. However, none of it means a thing if my scholars are still falling behind. The greatest gift was that my students carried that “We are NOT forgotten” and winning spirit into testing this past year. I received the highest scores I have ever had overall for proficiency or higher on the state exam. My scholars bought into the vision!

Now, let me encourage you to buy into the winning spirit. Do you feel like your scholars are amongst the forgotten? Is your school or district struggling? Do you need motivation to continue to stay in the education race?  If you have answered yes to any of these questions, I encourage you to apply. It is time to be remembered again! If not for you, then for those individuals that you call your children for at least 187 days or more!

Alicia Conerly teachingGet more information about the Shell Urban Science Educator Development Award and the Shell Science Lab Challenge.

Blog author Alicia Conerly taught Elementary, Middle, and High school science for seven and a half years. She is the first Science Specialist for the Hazlehurst City School District in Hazlehurst MS.


The annual NSTA Awards and Recognition Program recognizes exceptional and innovative science educators. With more than a dozen awards to choose from, there are opportunities for science educators at every level. All entries must be received by 11:59PM EST on 12/15/2016, via online submission, with the exception of the Shell Science Teaching Award, whose deadline is 1/06/2017. Entry fees are free. The NSTA Awards and Recognition recipients will be honored during a black-tie dinner gala on 3/31/2017 in Los Angeles, California, at the NSTA National Conference on Science Education.

For more information, contact Amanda Upton, the NSTA Awards and Recognition Program liaison, at 703.312.9217 or awards@nsta.org, or apply online by clicking on a link below.

Click on an item in the list below to read a description of the award.

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