Biology teacher at East Forsyth chosen as Teacher of the Year
By Kim Underwood: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
Allison Weavil, who teaches biology at East Forsyth High School, is the 2016-17 Teacher of the Year for Winton-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
Weavil has a gift for making learning fun, her students say, and she cares about them as people.
“She has a passion for learning that no other teacher has,” said sophomore MacKenzie Smoak. “She makes biology learnable and so much fun…She is hilarious.”
If Weavil thinks that standing up on top of a desk and becoming a tree will help her students understand photosynthesis, she will do it. What matters is keeping students engaged, Weavil said. “I do not hesitate to make a fool of myself if students are learning.”
Her students appreciate that effort. “She always explained things really, really well,” said sophomore Aryn Young.
“She makes learning in the classroom extremely fun,” said freshman Alexi Muse.
On Thursday morning, Superintendent Beverley Emory, Principal Rodney Bass and others surprised Weavil in her classroom. When Emory said, “This is our 2016-17 Teacher of the Year,” Weavil said she was truly surprised.
“I don’t think this is a surprise to anybody else,” said Emory, who went on to talk about how much students, teachers and others respect her and appreciate what she does.
She’s an outstanding teacher, Bass said. She has a great rapport with students and she teaches “from bell to bell.”
As the school system’s Principal of the Year, Rusty Hall, who is the principal at Old Town Elementary, served on the selection committee. When he dropped by her class to observe one day, he discovered just how engaging she is as a teacher.
“I found myself transported back to being a student, and I wanted to take notes and participate in her class,” he said.
Cindy Neugent, who is an administrative assistant in the front office, also knows Weavil as a parent. Her sophomore son, Alec, is one of Weavil’s students. “She is awesome in her teaching abilities,” Neugent said. “She has been so willing to tutor and to go the extra mile.”
After talking about Weavil’s kindness to everyone and concern for her students, front-office secretary Betty Ann Brandis brought up her gift for coming up with innovative solutions. Buying kits that test Ph costs money that isn’t always available. “Yesterday she boiled cabbage in a crock pot,” Brandis said. “She made her own Ph solution.”
“You never know when a knowledge of biology might serve you,” Weavil said. “It might be when you’re planting seeds in a garden or sitting on a jury listening to a lawyer present DNA evidence.”
Weavil grew up in Gilbert, a small town in South Carolina. “It didn’t even have a stoplight when I was growing up,” she said. “It does now.”
She comes from a family of educators. Aunts were teachers. Cousins grew up to become teachers. Her mother, Diane Jumper, was a teacher who became an assistant principal. So she often thought about becoming a teacher herself. It was in high school, though, that three teachers – Valerie Waites, Nancy Bickley and Sandra Strange – inspired her to get serious about following that path.
“They taught me what it means to be a good teacher,” Weavil said. “They inspired not just me but all of their students to work and love learning.”
Having become a teacher, Weavil believes she found her calling. “I’m a woman of faith, and I believe we all have a calling – something we are supposed to fulfill in our lives,” she said. “I am meant to be a teacher, and I have been given an opportunity to do that.”
Weavil started teaching with WSFCS in 1999, just after she and her husband, Jeff, married. Jeff was already working in the area, and that August she took her first teaching job at West Forsyth High School.
When Weavil started teaching at West, fellow biology teacher Judy Felder served as her mentor. Her respect for her students, her passion for teaching and her ability to work well with others were evident from the start, Felder said. “She loves her students, she loves what she does, she is a great co-worker.”
While Weavil was at West, she earned her master’s degree in education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2006. Weavil was the Teacher of the Year at West in 2007, and, in 2010, she became the chair of the science department. She taught at West until 2013 when she went to East Forsyth.
Trish Gainey, who is now the school system’s Executive Principal for Leadership Development, was the principal of East at the time. “She truly tries to make a connection with every child in her classroom and goes above and beyond in finding a way to connect with a student,” Gainey said.
Once, when Weavil was having trouble finding a way to connect with a student, Gainey said, she approached a coach who worked with the student and asked for advice. The coach was helpful and Weavil was able to make a solid connection with the student.
“She cares so much about her students, not just what goes on in the classroom,” said sophomore Sierra Dillard.
Jeff Weavil appreciates just what a wonderful person and teacher his wife is. “She cares not only about helping them learn but helping them grow as young people. She is dedicated. She is loyal.”
Their daughter, Grayson, is a sixth-grader at Hanes Magnet School. “She is just amazing, and she is always there for me,” Grayson sad. “I know that I can count on her. She has so much enthusiasm for students.” Her mother’s sense of humor comes home with her at the end of the day. “She tells corny jokes; she will dance around in the kitchen,” Grayson said.
The family goes to Glenn View Baptist Church in Kernersville. There, she has been a Sunday School teacher, served on church committees, and, inspired by her daughter’s question about what to do when they saw a homeless person holding a sign, established Bags of Hope ministry. Church members pack gallon-sized zip-lock bags with cans of beans, cups of applesauce and other food that doesn’t have to be cooked, along with toiletries and other necessities to give to people who are homeless.
When Weavil has time to call her own, she likes to read – Pat Conroy is at the top her list – and to cook. She also enjoys traveling. She particularly enjoys cruises.
If Weavil could change one thing about education, it would be to get people to understand how important it is to provide more money for education so that teachers can be paid what they should be paid, so that programs such as the N.C. Teaching Fellows can be restored and so that enough teacher assistants can be hired to serve students in the lower grades. In conjunction with that, she would like to see people working to elect people who understand that.
As the celebration was breaking up and people were returning to their regular duties, Julie Riggins, who teaches math at East Forsyth, came over to tell Weavil that she hopes that the honor will help Weavil understand just how great a teacher she is. “You are so humble,” Riggins said. “It validates you as a teacher. You don’t give yourself enough credit. You need this to tell you that you are great.”
As teacher Amanda Frederico put it, “Her heart is engulfed with her students. She only wants the absolute best for all of her kids all of the time.”
As Weavil sees it, she is just one of many, many teachers who are working hard to do their best for their students. And, for her, this honor is for everyone at East.
“East Forsyth High is a family,” she said. “When I look at this award, I look on it as an award for the entire school. We work together for the needs of our students.”