By Warren Scott, Staff Writer
FOLLANSBEE - The 2013 West Virginia Teacher of the Year encouraged youth at Follansbee Middle School to consider the consequences of their actions, whether posting on the Internet or preparing for school.
"You are all capable of doing great things, if you make the right choices," said Erin Sponaugle, a Berkeley County fifth-grade teacher who was among county teachers of the year submitted from throughout the state to the West Virginia Department of Education.
Sponaugle noted middle school pupils are at an age when they have more freedom but also more responsibility.
She encouraged them to think carefully about the things they do, particularly when posting messages or photos on Facebook or other social media because when they do, "you are writing on the walls of your reputation."
"Pause before you post. Say to yourself, 'is it kind, is it helpful, is it true,'" Sponaugle asked.
She said whether online or in person, they should try to be kind to each other. The middle school years involve changes that aren't always easy, she noted, and it helps if peers support each other through them.
Sponaugle also advised them to put in their best effort at school.
"What you learn in school is going to prepare you to do all those amazing things you are capable of," she said.
She added they may not always see a future need for the various subjects they are studying, but even the habit of completing assignments on time is good preparation for their future careers.
Sponaugle also advocated for healthy lifestyles, saying their bodies are like a car that requires the proper fuel and must be maintained.
She said healthy food helps them to do well as athletes or students and regular exercise has been found to increase brain activity. She noted pupils who aren't interested in team sports still can get exercise in other ways, such as bicycling or walking.
Sponaugle said it's normal to make mistakes, adding she made mistakes when she was their age, but they can learn from them.
"Your future depends on you. The older you are, the more reliant you are on yourself," she said.
Sponaugle noted everyone is different, with different personalities and abilities, but everyone can have an impact.
"You're all different. But more importantly, you can be the difference," she advised.
Michalene Mills, school principal, wrapped up the program with a few comments for the pupils.
Alluding to recent news of violence at schools elsewhere, she said students should try to be kind to each other.
"In light of things that have been happening in the outside world, let's try to change things at Follansbee," she said.
Logan Heinzeroth, a sixth-grader from Colliers, was asked what he will take away from Sponaugle's talk. "Make good choices because it follows you into the future," he said.
Sponaugle said she's been visiting schools throughout the state and made stops also at Bethany College and Colliers Primary School this week. She is looking forward to representing West Virginia later this month in a meeting with President Obama.
As West Virginia Teacher of the Year, Sponaugle has received use of a Toyota car for a year, an educational technology package valued at nearly $15,000 and cash awards from Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Horace Mann Insurance.
In her talk with the pupils, she noted she once considered becoming an artist or journalist before pursuing teaching. She said school was not always easy for her, but she was inspired by an aunt who was a teacher and who was her personal champion.