The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to daily routines, including those of both teachers and students as they have adjusted to remote learning for the remainder of the 2020/21 school year.

Teachers everywhere are working tirelessly to tackle the challenges of online learning while experiencing the loss of physical interaction with their students.

Ashe County Schools recently announced and congratulated the five teachers from each school in the district who were selected for Teacher of the Year via their Facebook page.

Kelly Lopp, a science teacher at Ashe County High School, was selected as the school’s TOY for this year.

Lopp said what she enjoys most about her job is daily interactions with her students and being able to learn more about them as individuals through building relationships with them.

“It is interesting seeing how they change and mature from ninth grade until they graduate as seniors. It is also gratifying to see former students and have them tell you what you taught them in class really helped them,” Lopp said.

Lopp said online teaching has been a challenge for her because she tends to be more old-school and less skilled with technology in comparison with her younger peers and students. She has taught for 33 years and said she feels she has a handle on what works for teaching the skills necessary for students to be successful in science for high school and college. According to Lopp, checking for understanding as she is teaching is a concept she finds more difficult because she cannot see students’ faces or check their work and point out issues immediately, as she can while in the classroom. She said the personal connection is not there and she misses that aspect of traditional teaching.

“I consider it an honor to have been chosen since I teach with some of the best in the teaching profession,” Lopp said. "These teachers truly care about the wellbeing and education of students and work hard every day to help them achieve the skills necessary to be successful not only in their future educational endeavors, but life itself.”

Danny Eldreth, who teaches seventh grade science and math at Ashe County Middle School, was selected as the school’s TOY.

The 2020/21 school year is Eldreth’s 19th year in the classroom and he said he is fortunate to have a job he loves.

When asked about the best part of his job, Eldreth said it is the students.

“It is such a joy to work with kids,” Eldreth said. “They tend to be very forgiving, kind and they bring such energy to one’s day.”

Eldreth said the transition to remote learning has been the greatest learning curve he has experienced in his tenure as an educator. However, he said he is a man most blessed because he works with amazing colleagues and the parents of the students he teaches are very kind and generous.

“I am not the best teacher on my hallway, much less an educator worthy of the title ‘Teacher of the Year’ when one considers the amazing colleagues I’m blessed to work with at ACMS,” Eldreth said. “To be voted Teacher of the Year is very humbling and quite an honor.”

Preston Roberts, a fifth grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School, was chosen as the school’s TOY.

Roberts said the number one thing he loves about his job is the relationships he gets to build with his students.

“This crazy time has brought on many struggles as a teacher, but the biggest downfall is not being able to be in the classroom with my kids,” Roberts said.

He said he is extremely excited that he was selected because this is the first year he is eligible for TOY since it is his fourth year teaching.

“I had secretly thought multiple times that it would be a huge personal achievement if I was the TOY my first year being eligible, but never thought it would actually happen,” Roberts said. “I am extremely grateful of the title, but don’t feel any more deserving than anyone else at MVES.”

Cara Elliott, a first grade teacher at Westwood Elementary School, was selected as the school’s TOY.

Elliott said what she enjoys most about teaching first graders is teaching children to read and it is amazing being able to watch. She said she also enjoys teaching children with special needs in her class, especially autism.

“My daughter has autism and I want to spread awareness about autism every day,” Elliott said. “With awareness comes acceptance.”

She said what she misses the most right now is seeing her children every day and being able to lay eyes on them, give them high fives and know for a fact they are safe with her throughout the school day. Elliott said although she has been teaching for 14 years, she still feels like she has no idea what she is doing every day because teaching is just that hard.

She said this school year has been especially hard because she is having to teach first grade from behind a computer screen.

Her son is also a senior at Ashe County High School and it has been difficult to see the class of 2020 miss their final memories of high school.

“When I found out I won Teacher of the Year for Westwood, I was truly humbled that my colleagues would vote for me,” Elliott said. “I was honored to get even one vote because every teacher I work with deserves this award. It is so hard to know all that each teacher does every day.”

Dawn Powers, a first grade teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary School, was selected as the school’s TOY.

“I was absolutely blown away to be chosen as the Teacher of the Year at Blue Ridge among so many wonderful and deserving people,” Powers said.

Powers said these are certainly challenging times for education and the best part of the job, time spent with the children, has been drastically reduced. However, Powers said she has seen amazing things happen during this time, including how people have come together and risen to the occasion.

Powers said parents, grandparents, teachers, cafeteria workers and staff are all working together for the good of their kids, not only their education but all of their needs including those of their hearts, minds and bodies.

“There’s more encouragement, more understanding, and more kinship than ever before,” Powers said. “I’m honored to be a small part of a school and community who have stepped up and collectively said, 'We can do this, and we’ll do it together'. That’s the heart of Blue Ridge Elementary. That’s the heart of Ashe County.”

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