Haugabrook selected as Teacher of the Year nominee

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By Brenda Locklear

“Each day, whether I am in the classroom or the grocery store, as an educator, I influence the lives of little ones who will soon be our future. I have the enormous responsibility of taking part in molding a child. My simple words could make or break spirits and self-esteem,” said Webster Elementary School teacher Melani Haugabrook of the importance of her job.

“Teaching is one of the most important jobs on earth. Each day I am entrusted to ensure that the well being and educational needs of each child I come in contact with, are being met.”

Thinking back over her near decade in the classroom and said, “Over the course of nine years as a teacher, most days are ones ‘for the books’, but I would have to say one of the most memorable moments was when I had a parent of a former student stop into my class during an open house event.

“He greeted me, asked if I remembered him, which I did, and he very sternly proceeded to tell me how his son absolutely hated me when he first entered my class. Before I had a chance to respond, he quickly added, that by the end of the year that all changed.

“At that time, two years had passed since he had been in my class - he still talked about me, but it changed to how much he ended up loving my class.”

Haugabrook is a 2007 graduate of Lake-Sumter Community College, where she earned her Associate of Arts degree. She followed up at the University of Central Florida, graduating in 2009 with her Bachelors of Science- Elementary Education.

“I have had many memorable moments, but most importantly the day I married my best friend, Willie Haugabrook. Next would be the day we had our daughter, Madisyn Haugabrook, and thinking only of myself, the day I zip-lined over the rain forest in Puerto Rico - but of course that doesn’t compare to the first two!

She credits her family with where she is today.

“In the past, my Granny Mattie was my biggest cheerleader - in the present my mom, Granny Marian and Granddaddy Charles have taken over the cheerleader roll, and for my future my husband and daughter, because they push me to believe that my life’s possibilities are absolutely-limitless.”

“In 1999, I came back home from my first year of college to ‘take a semester off,’, which meant I was really just clueless about what I wanted to do. A friend talked me into applying for a job at the local Boys and Girls club. I received a position as a group leader and those kiddos stole my heart.

“After the long college-while-I -worked- a- full-time- job- journey, I applied for a teaching position in Sumter County. My former middle school English teacher, Eileen Goodson hired me at Webster Elementary in 2009 and WES has been my home ever since!

As for what she hopes to pass on to the children she teaches, she said, “A former teacher of mine, Mrs. Mona Oliver, wrote a very short, yet sweet message in my eighth grade yearbook. I don’t think she will EVER understand the power of those words. If I am able to speak life into a child’s situation/life through a small gesture or lesson that’s taught in my classroom, then my mission is accomplished.”

Haugabrook said her philosophy is simple. “Reach a child’s heart and you can reach their mind. Students must trust that I have their best interest at heart. If I gain their trust, they are more likely to work hard and give me 100 percent in an effort, to make me proud.

“Like my own daughter, I hold my students to high standards. Sometimes they may not like it, but in the end, they appreciate it.”

Haugabrook and her husband, Willie Haugabrook Jr. have two children and he “currently serves and protects as a lieutenant with the Sumter County Fire Department.”

“We have been married for 12 years and together have a seven-year-old daughter, Madisyn ( an A honor roll student at Bushnell Elementary School) and a 22-year-old daughter, Jayla who is currently in college as well as working in child care.

Anything that has surprised her in all these years?

“I pondered this question. I think it’s difficult to come up with an answer because not many things surprise me. I learned early in life to be careful about expectations in order to avoid disappointment or surprise. So honestly, maybe I surprise myself more than anything or anybody.”

And what might surprise others about her?

“Strange but true. If ever given the opportunity, I would love to be an animated voice over for any Disney movie!”