Long Island native Caroline Kelly enjoys competing in local competitions as a strength athlete, but recently won another important competition when she was honored as Pee Dee Elementary’s Teacher of the Year.
“I cried like a baby,” Kelly said. “I really had been wanting to be Teacher of the Year for years. When you want something like that and it happens, it’s emotional.”
The fourth grade ELA reading and writing teachers said that after the announcement was made, twelve people, including administration, came running down the hall to give her flowers and the whole thing was “very sweet”, she said.
She attended Dowling College and got her degree in Elementary Education, and received her master’s degree in Literacy from Coastal Carolina University in 2018.
“I was nine months pregnant walking across the stage,” she laughed, as she welcomed her son Jaxon not long after she finished.
Kelly came to South Carolina ten years ago and first taught at Chabad Jewish Academy in Myrtle Beach. She was the only first and second grade teacher there, and also helped teach dual language students.
“It really pushed me to stand on my own,” she said.
She moved on to Pee Dee Elementary and taught second grade for four years, and then taught third grade for another four.
Earlier in her college career, she began to major in linguistics, and enjoyed learning Hebrew during her time at the Jewish Academy. Kelly currently has two more classes to go to get her extension in English As a Second Language (ESOL).
Making learning fun for her students is a top priority, she said.
“We sing, dance…and well obviously now it has to be a little different,” Kelly said. “Relationships are something that I really think have to come first before academics.”
Those relationships she builds with the students then serve to help Kelly help those children grow in their own way.
“If I know who loves football, I can make a connection to it. That child will grow from what they love,” Kelly said. “I like getting up and putting movement to concepts and helping the kids use the whole body to show what they know.”
The biggest challenge she’s faced during the pandemic is not being able to get close to the students.
“They thrive on knowing that they are loved and being taken care of, so that was the struggle to really feel like you could get close to them,” Kelly said, referencing the numerous Google Meets during the semester. “In order to get face time with every child you do what you have to do.”
There has been a lot of multitasking, she said.
“[Sometimes] there are kids in the room, kids at home, you put your camera on and do your best,” Kelly said.
She praised the children for being flexible and resilient in such a strange time.
“They have really risen to the occasion. I can’t believe how responsible these kids have been with this stuff. We are much more offended by stuff than they are. The kids have made it easier. They’ve just been so flexible and willing to do whatever they need to … they definitely want to be at school,” Kelly said.
She does all of this while juggling her three-year-old at home, as well as caring for her chihuahua, Patch.
“He’s [Jaxon] at an age where he definitely demands my attention,” Kelly said, saying she has been in virtual conferences, zoom meetings, and meetings with consultants on her computer all while her son sits on her lap. “Times have changed.”
When she isn’t teaching, she loves to hone her strength athlete skills with Olympic weight lifting, which she said she’s done for the last six years. She trained for years in a local gym but most recently does her own workouts at home.