Editor’s Note: This is the 11th article in a series on north Okaloosa County Teachers of the Year.
CRESTVIEW — Oscar Rojas’ teacher lobbed a Tootsie Pop toward him for being the first to answer a reading question.
Frances Holland, a 22-year exceptional student education veteran, believes in rewarding students who achieve their literacy goals.
Improvement for students like Oscar is measured in leaps and bounds, she said. However, other sixth- through eighth-graders’ improvements are more subtle, requiring instruction that is more personal.
Holland has taught E.S.E. throughout her career, which began at the former Richbourg Middle School before she moved to Davidson Middle School when it opened.
"It's all I ever wanted to do," Holland said. "The neatest thing is that I get to keep the students for three years. In that length of time you really get to know the students and their families."
Harry says 'Read!'
Under the watchful eyes of Holland, her teaching aide Lori Parker and a life-size display of Harry Potter — "He's saying, 'Read!'" Holland said — Oscar and his classmates read a story about migrant workers’ plight.
This class is independent, Holland said. Another class — still learning about the alphabet and how to write their names — requires constant supervision.
"I have students in many different levels," Holland said. "They have many needs. Meeting their needs is the biggest challenge."
Holland, one of four Davidson E.S.E. teachers, advises new E.S.E. teachers to "relax and enjoy the kids."
Showing appreciation for students’ efforts can have a lifelong impact, she believes.
"A child will forget what you say, but they'll never forget how you made them feel," Holland said, paraphrasing poet Maya Angelou.
Oscar appreciates Holland's efforts.
"She's a very good teacher," he said. "She's got lots of knowledge and shares it. She teaches everything."
'Like winning the green jacket'
Holland, who retires at the end of the school year, was surprised when she learned her peers had selected her as Davidson's Teacher of the Year.
"Oh my God!" she said. "I've been teaching 22 years and I never got anything like that. For me it was like winning the green jacket at the Masters. It was a big honor."
Holland was the ideal candidate, teachers said.
"She's phenomenal," E.S.E. teacher Carol Cassity said. "She's the best reading teacher I've ever seen. She gets kids excited about reading...
“She's made an impact. Kids come back every year to tell her thank you."
Holland called her approaching retirement "bittersweet," but said she plans to return as a volunteer. Her colleagues and students said they would miss her.
"We're going to kidnap her and keep her here," Parker said jokingly.
One of her students was more to the point.
"I'm not going to let her leave me," Ricky Peterson said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.