The Ferguson-Florissant School District announced that James Young, a sixth-grade musical theatre teacher at Johnson-Wabash Sixth Grade Center, has been named FFSD's 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year.
Completely caught off guard during his lunch period, district leaders entered his classroom with balloons and sweet treats to surprise him with the award. He also received a check to use towards any professional development of his choice. Young was selected from other FFSD teachers who had been named building-level Teachers of the Year.
"Anyone who spends any time in the presence of Mr. Young can feel his passion for music and his eagerness to pass on the passion to the young people he teaches," said Dr. Ben Eye, assistant principal of Johnson-Wabash. "Mr. Young exemplifies what a teacher is and should be. He is not afraid to educate the whole student, and he ignites the fire of his student's creativity."
Young has been teaching in FFSD for nearly 14 years. After three years in the U.S. Army, Young took the opportunity afforded to him by the G.I. Bill to go back to school and study music education. His grandmother, Elizabeth Hutcherson-Rucks, a retired music educator, instilled the idea of teaching at a young age. "Being the oldest of eight siblings, my parents taught me the importance of responsibility and being an example for others to follow," said Young.
Throughout his career, building collaborative partnerships has been an integral part of his teaching experience. In addition, he is also committed to creating an environment of learning that is culturally relevant. "In the first few years of teaching, I began to see my calling more clearly. I had the opportunity to reach students who were like me culturally. I felt called to help students learn the enjoyment and appreciation of music in a relevant way," says Young. "In addition to creating an environment of learning that is culturally relevant, I have also strived to create a strong community of learners."
Over the last two years working alongside Judy Brown, a theater teacher at Johnson-Wabash, Young has seen collaborative partnerships work first-hand. Together, they have guided students through a sampling of the arts to highlight each student's strengths. This collaboration included performances of more virtual showcase projects like the Lion King. "Young embodies a calm, steady, and consistent presence to every student that comes in our classroom," says Brown. "He embraces the true meaning of collaborative partnerships when we are co-teaching together, and he is consistently persevering in learning new tools and strategies to find the best practices for students' education."
Young admits that in this COVID-19 era, maintaining high levels of interaction with students can be challenging. What is the best way to build those interactions? "Calling them by name," said Young. "The best way to facilitate a high or complex level response from all learners is to start with making connections to them as individuals. I believe that each student can learn and achieve, and it is a matter of letting them know that I believe this to be true. Once students are confident in their ability to try, they will grow in ways that may have at first seemed difficult."
Young earned a bachelor's in music education from the University of Missouri — St. Louis. As FFSD's Teacher of the Year, Young will now be in the running for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Regional Teacher of the Year award, which will be announced later this spring.