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Bringing Christ’s Love into the Classroom

Bringing Christ’s Love into the Classroom

Bringing Christ’s Love into the Classroom

Renee’ Atkinson, the South Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2024, exemplifies shining a light for Christ in the classroom. 

With over 21 years of experience in the education field, Atkinson never anticipated the platform that she would have as the Teacher of the Year. Throughout the year, Atkinson has traveled across the state, speaking to other teachers and aspiring teachers. “Instead of just impacting the 90 students that I would see on a daily basis, I’ve been able to extend that to teachers and students across the state. That’s pretty powerful,” Atkinson said.

Renee’ Atkinson speaks at the Heart4Schools Spring Celebration.

Encouraging Heart4Schools Volunteers 

Atkinson shared at the recent Heart4Schools Spring Celebration, hoping to educate, inspire, and further the mission of the volunteers as they seek to grow stronger partnerships with schools throughout the state. “I think that our school and community partnerships are so important. They are just vital for our school and our student success,” Atkinson said.

She emphasized that caring for students means meeting crucial needs. “Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry. Kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe. Kids can’t learn if they don’t feel a sense of love and belonging,” she said. She thanked the volunteers for spending time contributing to Heart4Schools programs like Backpack Buddies and Reading Buddies. 

Atkinson teaches at Aynor High School.

Helping Students Succeed

Backpack Buddies is a vital program that provides food-packed bags for students who face hunger, ensuring they have meals over the weekend. Another program of Heart4Schools is Reading Buddies, where volunteers meet with students for thirty minutes each week to listen to them read, a critical skill that sets the foundation for all future learning. 

“If we want to help students really have better lives, we’ve got to make sure their basic needs are met,” Atkinson said. “Even just sitting and reading to a child helps them to do better in school.”

“Renee loves people. She loves God. She knows how important relationships are with students,” Angela McNeal, Community Ministry Strategist at SCBaptist, said. For McNeal, Atkinson’s insights into the needs of teachers and students have been invaluable.

River Rock Community Church provides a meal to support teachers.

Caring for Teachers

She also shared that a critical need is to care for new teachers. “We lose about half of those teachers in the first five years,” she said. “Support is one of the number one reasons why teachers are leaving the classroom,” she said. 

“I also want to say thank you for your teacher support efforts, because no action that you do is too small to have an impact on a teacher’s life,” she said. She encouraged SCBaptists to continue to build relationships with the teachers in their communities, taking time to listen to stories and discover how to support their work in the classroom. “When you’re taking care of teachers, you’re taking care of students because it helps us do our jobs even better,” she said.

Atkinson celebrates being named the 2024 South Carolina Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Janet Morgan, MyHorryNews)

Finding Purpose in God’s Calling

For Atkinson, her calling as a teacher has always been about serving the Lord. “I have had people ask me, ‘Why do you work so hard?'” she shared. For her, the answer is always the same. “It’s not me I’m working for,” she said.

“When I say that this is a calling, I know that God has definitely ordered these steps because this is not my comfort zone,” she said. Although Atkinson felt she was not worthy of the accolades she’d received, she was reminded by friends that she was chosen for a reason to fulfill God’s purpose. She surrounded herself with verses to remind her of her mission.

As she spent time fulfilling her calling, she realized that the Lord has called everyone for a purpose. “I think that everybody is part of God’s special purpose for this generation,” she said. “Your mission can only help improve the work that we do and that we try to make education better for the children of South Carolina.”

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