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Her classroom's a 'happy place'

Berkeley County Teacher of the Year Cynthia Ann Welsh's philosophy is, "there are times you have to be firm, but I believe every

Berkeley County Teacher of the Year Cynthia Ann Welsh's philosophy is, "there are times you have to be firm, but I believe every

August 27, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HEDGESVILLE, W.VA. - Cynthia Ann Welsh is not a "teachers' lounge eater."

Berkeley County's Teacher of the Year for 2006-07 feels just as comfortable with a sandwich in hand while sitting down on the floor of her brightly decorated kindergarten classroom at Hedgesville Elementary School, preparing for the next round of student activities.

She's "a bubble on a hot griddle," said Patty Dunham, Welsh's aide for many years.

"She's very deserving (of the recognition) because she cares very much for all students," Dunham said. "She takes a special interest in each one of them."

Entering her 14th academic year at Hedgesville Elementary School, Welsh, 48, said she very well could substitute teach after retiring.

"There's not many jobs that you can go to and see such progress," Welsh said. "It's a happy place."

Not that there aren't a few serious moments while instructing nearly two dozen 5-year-olds for six hours a day.

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"There are times you have to be firm, but I believe every child needs a smile," Welsh said of her teaching philosophy.

The mother of a grown daughter and son, Welsh said it is important to her to recognize each student as an individual, know their strengths and weaknesses and show them respect.

"In any grade, they need to know you care," Welsh said as she readied her classroom for the school year last week.

A Washington County native, Welsh graduated from Frostburg (Md.) State College in 1980 on a professional track to teach classes from kindergarten through third grade. She was the first child (one of five) in her family to go away to college and earn a four-year degree.

She began by student teaching at Route 40 School in Frostburg. Her first job in Berkeley County was a split position for Back Creek Valley and Gerrardstown elementary schools.

Welsh said she "camped out" to land the Hedgesville position, and aggressively pursued the opportunity.

"Every year, you get a different group of children," Welsh said. "They are just like big sponges. It's kind of a clich, but they really are."

With the teaching honor came a banner for her classroom, flowers, plaques and $1,000 to pay for the cost of an educators' conference or convention.

Welsh knew she was selected as one of five finalists in May, but had to keep it a secret and contain her excitement.

"I was OK 'til about August - Monday night I was a basket case," Welsh said. "When they said my name, I was shocked. "

Dunham wasn't.

"I wasn't shocked at all," Dunham said. "I told her to dress pretty."

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