Feature Teacher - Mrs. Gina Whitaker, Kindergarten Teacher

Submitted by Cristina Irwin,
Licking R-VIII Superintendent

  On any given day, stories about young people living their lives in a way that causes adults to question the direction of the future are shared on television, the Internet and radio stations. There is one person who continues to celebrate the gifts children bring to our world and finds the good, the joy, the hope and the smiles of young people. Today, we find her in a kindergarten classroom.  
  Mrs. Gina Whitaker began her work with children at Little Red Schoolhouse Day Care in Springfield, Missouri. She worked there while pursuing her teaching degree at Missouri State University. In 1988, she began teaching K-3rd grade in Salem, Mo., at William Lynch Elementary School, where she worked with learning disabled and behavior disabled students as both teacher and assistant counselor. Mrs. Whitaker has been known to say, "Try your best and do what's right!" She received the Outstanding Young Educator award in 1990.
  In August 1995, Licking R-VIII School District was in the fortunate position to be able to hire Mrs. Whitaker as a special education teacher. In her work with the District, Mrs. Whitaker has continued to focus on the gift of working as a team with teachers, administrators, counselors, support staff, custodians, bus drivers, and cooks whom she describes as "wonderful people who are each important to students' success!" Mrs. Whitaker went on to earn Educator of the Year in 1988. She also volunteered at Licking Church of Christ for a short period. She attends Licking United Methodist Church, where she enjoys helping with Children's Church and Vacation Bible School. At Licking Elementary, Mrs. Whitaker's smile lights up hallways, recess and bus dismissal, and staff know that Mrs. Whitaker will lead with a friendly greeting and positive encouragement.
  Over the past 24 years, Mrs. Whitaker has volunteered as a coach for Special Olympics and it is a cause she will remain passionate about long into the future. Mrs. Whitaker clearly loves seeing when children are proud of themselves and are pleased with their accomplishments. Her work with Special Olympics continues to positively affect the lives of students from the age of five through 21+. When asked to reflect on her 25 years of experience with special education, Mrs. Whitaker says, "I have shared with students that we all make mistakes. That's how we learn. The important thing is to fix it and go on." While some people may find special needs challenging, Mrs. Whitaker has always embraced looking for ways to build relationships and make a difference with young people. 
  Mrs. Whitaker now serves as our kindergarten teacher, and when asked to reflect on her experiences, she says she has enjoyed every year. Mrs. Whitaker lets children know she cares about each of them as individuals. "I teach them that talk is cheap. Rather than just saying words like 'I'm sorry', do something about it. Show others with actions," says Mrs. Whitaker. This is a concept Mrs. Whitaker embodies. At Christmastime, along with other teacher volunteers, Mrs. Whitaker has celebrated Christmas by sharing gifts with students. By giving out love, Mrs. Whitaker has taught children that the spirit of giving is what is most important! "Their smiles say it all," Mrs. Whitaker said. Referring to her class as "family" and celebrating students' differences builds students' confidence and builds positive culture among adults in our district. 
  After 28 years in education, Mrs. Whitaker plans to retire at the end of the school year. Together, we will celebrate times Mrs. Whitaker has built self-esteem, increased academic performance, emphasized social skills, and even used her own kitchen tools to build life skills. No doubt Mrs. Whitaker will continue to serve as a volunteer for Special Olympics and stay involved in educating young people in our community. We hope we will continue to be blessed with her loving approach, positive point-of-view, and dedication to children long into the future. 



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