Kendra Bryson (center, seated) is the 2023 Barnwell County Consolidated School District Teacher of the Year. Back row: KEES Teacher of the Year April Smith, BHHS Teacher of the Year Lisa Nelson, D29 Superintendent Dr. Marcella Shaw, D19 Superintendent David Corder, Blackville Mayor Frenchie Smalls, WEHS Teacher of the Year Mary Wright, and WEMS Teacher of the Year Michael Vincent.

Barnwell County’s consolidated school district has named its first Teacher of the Year.

Kendra Bryson, a fifth and sixth grade English language arts teacher at Macedonia Elementary-Middle School (MEMS) in Blackville, was named the 2023 Teacher of the Year for the Barnwell County Consolidated School District. Bryson and the other four school-level teachers of the year from Barnwell District 19 and Williston District 29, which consolidate on July 1, were recognized on April 27 during a spring fling held in Blackville-Hilda High’s gym.

“This is a moment in history,” said Dr. Marcella Shaw, interim superintendent-elect of the new BCCSD, just moments before the announcement. “We thank and acknowledge all of our teachers and staff for your efforts toward our scholars.”

Bryson has been a teacher for nine years but has taught in Blackville since 2013.

“The selection committee validated what I have always known about Mrs. Bryson, that she is a fantastic teacher who loves her students and her colleagues at Macedonia Elementary-Middle School. As I have stated many times over the years, the teachers at Macedonia Elementary-Middle and Blackville-Hilda High are some of the finest teachers in the state. Our community is fortunate that they are teaching our children,” said David Corder, interim superintendent for Barnwell District 19.

Being named BCCSD Teacher of the Year is a true honor for Bryson.

“The job of an educator is commonly called a thankless job because often with the workload that we have it seems that we are under appreciated and undervalued. Receiving this award has been the pinnacle of my career as an educator and its shows that teachers are in fact valued and appreciated. Having this award means the world to me and can show my students that what you put in you will get back. I tell them this because I often stress to them to always do the right thing, even if you think no one is watching and to always give 110 percent in all that they do no matter what,” said Bryson.

She thanks everyone who has helped her in her journey to Teacher of the Year, including God, her mom who was her first teacher, her sixth to eighth grade math teacher Melissa Green who always believed in her, community members, parents, administrators, and the fifth/sixth grade team at MEMS.

“My team works well together with the common goal to not only educate our students but provide a safe and loving environment. I still believe that it takes a village to raise children and having these people apart of that village is the reason I am able to do what I love today -teach!” she said.

Bryson also thanks her present and former students, including her first class that made her a teacher, which is this year’s graduating class.

“I love kids. They show me daily what love feels and looks like and they bring joy to me in a way that’s unexplainable. They are the very thing I love most about my job,” Bryson said.

Her grandmother inspired her to become a teacher during her childhood years. “While not a teacher herself, she taught me a lot of lessons, namely caring about the wellbeing of others and giving back to the community to leave the world better than I found it. I was blessed and fortunate to have her in my life growing up, and I wanted to pass her lessons and influence along to future generations, and the best way for me to do that is in the classroom, shaping young minds and young lives and providing a strong caring influence for them in the classroom and in the community, just as my grandmother did for me,” she said.

After working with students in college as a volunteer, she realized education was the right career path after starting college with an undeclared major. Volunteering at Brookdale Elementary ignited her love of teaching and led her to major in Elementary Education.

“While there I worked with students and enjoyed seeing the light bulbs in the heads go off when they began to understand what I was teaching them. Seeing students light up has been my continued excitement as a teacher even today,” she said.

In the classroom, she builds upon her students’ current foundations of knowledge or builds a foundation if one does not already exist while also connecting with the students through their interests and integrating them into lessons. In afterschool and summer programs, she furthers those connections by listening to them and interacting with students more organically outside of a structured academic context

“Test scores and grades aren’t the only thing I care about. I genuinely care about their character and who they will grow up to become in this world. Education means nothing if a person doesn’t show good character,” she said.

Chelsea Calhoun, assistant principal for Blackville-Hilda Public Schools, was part of the committee that hired Bryson in 2013 and has since watched her grow as a teacher. “She goes out of her way to plan effective and engaging lessons to capture the excitement and enthusiasm of her students. She takes pride in building meaningful and lasting relationships with her students, parents, and coworkers. As a former instructional coach and now an administrator, I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching and mentoring Mrs. Bryson and watching her grow into the professional that she is today. She has always been the type of educator who is eager to learn and always willing to do whatever it takes to reach her students,” said Calhoun.

She knows teaching is what she was born to do.