Donna Whitaker, a 27-year veteran of teaching at West Junior High School in Belleville, said she is humbled to receive the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award.
It's not because she doesn't think she deserves it. She just thinks all her fellow teachers at the school deserve it, too.
"They said it is for going above and beyond what is required of a teacher," said Whitaker, who teaches science and dabbles in landscaping the campus in her free time. "Well, we all go above and beyond. Everyone here puts their all into giving students the best education we can."
Whitaker was one of 93 educators in the St. Louis area who received the award during a Sunday evening ceremony. More than a third of the winners are from the metro-east.
District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said Whitaker was instrumental in bringing science to special education kids in Belleville before the state even required it. He said she has a passion for inspiring youngsters.
"Mrs. Whitaker is the kind of teacher who always wants to do everything she can to help," Klosterman said. "She never brushes aside any problems. If a student is having trouble with something, she wants them in her class so she can help them work through it. She wants to take on everything she can and make a difference."
Emerson Executive Vice President Patrick J. Sly said, when it gets down to it, teachers are the key to inspiring students to learn, no matter what district they attend.
"Quality teachers are instrumental in helping students achieve the highest level of success," Sly said. "And their achievements ultimately enable our communities to grow, companies to succeed and increase jobs, and provide more progressive employment opportunities in the future."
Whitaker said one of her favorite things about working at West Junior High is that she loves the team she gets to work with.
"You can tell when you're here how much the staff cares about the kids," Whitaker said. "I'm proud to get to be a part of this team."
In addition to a crystal apple, teachers who received the Emerson award are eligible to apply for grants from the company which may be used to find classroom programs.
Emerson has awarded nearly $300,000 in Gold Star grants to St. Louis area schools since 2006.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2626.