Originally published Jan. 12, 2020 in the Edmond Sun.
By Patty Miller
Northern Hills Elementary 2019-20 Teacher of the Year, Mary North, said one thing she is committed to is helping create an environment of engagement and enthusiasm among the school staff where she works.
This transplanted Texan is in her third year of teaching at Northern Hills, and before that she was at Summit Middle School for one year. Prior to coming to Oklahoma, North had spent 16 years in Texas schools.
North teaches physical education to kindergarten through fifth grade students. She teaches six to seven classes of physical education including kindergarten through fifth grade and Adaptive Physical Education.
“As I became involved in organized sports in middle school and high school, my overall enjoyment of the school experience both in the gym and the classroom grew,” North said. “I was challenged and encouraged by teachers and coaches, and as I transitioned to college, I knew that was the path I wanted to take so that I could be that same positive influence.”
TEACHER MODELS BEST BEHAVIORS
North said she has been fortunate enough to have many great teachers and coaches during her time in school.
“That said, as an educator I’ve always been motivated by the example set by Mrs. Johnson,” North said.
Johnson was North’s high school math teacher as well as her coach in basketball, track and cross country.
“What has stuck with me was the way she always modeled the expectations and behaviors that she wanted from her students and athletes,” North said.
North added that her guiding philosophy as a teacher is to always be modeling the way in the classroom, the gym, and outside of school.
“I believe that educators can bring the best out of the students when they’re at their best all the time,” North said. “One thing I am committed to is helping create an environment of engagement and enthusiasm with every school staff I have the opportunity to be a part of. I love organizing staff fitness challenges, events like our school participation in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and working to secure grants for our school so we can always be improving the tools that our children have access to.”
Principal Michele Milner spoke highly of North’s abilities as an educator.
“Mary North is ‘that person’ who always has ideas for ways to include and make everyone feel like they belong,” Milner said. “Belonging is so important, especially in elementary school. She researches and plans activities that allow everyone to participate at their level. Instilling a sense of health and wellness can be challenging for a student body of close to 800; however, Mary does this with ease and joy.
“She is genuine and happy to help both students and adults. Repeatedly, Mary creates activities for students and teachers. She invites us to have fun together and strengthen relationships. I am proud to be able to serve with Mary. She makes Northern Hills Elementary a better place.”
BUILDING STRONG FOUNDATIONS
North said she thinks it has always been critical for children to have a quality experience in elementary school in order to build a foundation for them to be engaged and enthusiastic about learning as they move into middle school and high school.
“I believe now, more than ever, in the importance of physical education and health as a core part of that foundation,” North said.
She said with all the technology children have access to today, it’s so much easier for them to spend more of their time sitting still rather than being active.
“I’m committed to introducing young kids to a healthy, active lifestyle that will not only help their overall success in the classroom, but also hopefully their quality of life as adults,” North said.
For the age group she is teaching currently, North said she wants the students to leave the school as sixth graders who seek opportunities to be active and engaged with others because it’s fun for them and because they understand how those activities contribute to their overall school experience, not because it is a requirement.
“My students have taught me to appreciate just how wide and varied learning styles and motivations are in children and how rewarding it is to make a connection with a child that is not engaged and see them really start enjoying school,” North said.
EDUCATOR LEAVES IMPRINT
Ten years ago a former student North had taught and coached in high school reached out to her on Facebook to let North know she was going to be running in the Austin Marathon. She had seen North was also planning to run.
Her former student had finished college and was teaching and coaching and had reached out to North to let her know she would like to run with her.
“She told me that I had inspired her to continue her passion for an active lifestyle as an adult,” North said, “and that’s why we were running together, it was one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.”
She and her husband, Micah, who met through mutual friends about 17 years ago, will have been married 14 years in March. They have two children who attend Cross Timbers Elementary School including their 11-year-old daughter, Leah, and a son, RJ, who is six years old. They also have a dog named Duke.
“We moved up to Oklahoma to be closer to our family, and Edmond was recommended to us by our friends and family because of their great community and schools,” North said.
In her spare time she loves to run, work out, and do activities with her family.
“I also volunteer coach my kids’ sports teams,” North said.
North received her associates degree at Grayson College in Denison, Texas, and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M at Commerce in Commerce, Texas.
Editor’s Note: This story is one in a series of stories about educators who were chosen Teacher of the Year for their respective schools. Teachers are representing schools from both the Deer Creek and Edmond school districts.