Bulloch County Schools and the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce named their 2014 Teacher of the Year Tuesday, and she never saw it coming.
Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, colleagues, friends and family — and a collection of cameras — snuck into room 815 at Langston Chapel Middle School to tell Jemelleh Coes that she had been selected the county’s top educator.
Caught on her heels, the eighth-grade special education teacher had few words at the ready, but an expression that said plenty.
A smiling and emotional Coes fought back tears as she embraced her husband, Alvie Coes, and Langston Chapel Middle Principal Bonnie Gamble-Hilton.
“Oh my gosh! Thank you so much. Thank you,” Coes said, excited, her voice shaky. “This is overwhelming.”
Coes was selected for the Bulloch County honor from 15 nominees submitted by each of system’s schools.
“Judges from the Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee reviewed teachers objectively, based on the nominees’ teacher certifications, commitment to the teaching field, evidence of respect from students, parents and peers, and their activities in the school and community,” said Hayley Greene, the school district’s public relations and marketing specialist.
Having earned the distinction, Coes will go on to compete in the 2013-14 Georgia Teacher of the Year program. The state will name its winner next spring, and the national winner will be named during the 2013-14 school year, which is why the Bulloch County school system designated Coes its 2014 Teacher of the Year in 2012.
“Mrs. Coes represents the excellence we need and want in our teachers,” Wilson said. “She is definitely deserving of this honor.”
Coes is a fifth-year teacher and the youngest member of the LCMS staff.
The full extent of how in the dark she had been kept was realized when Coes stepped into the hall, moments after receiving the award.
Langston Chapel’s teachers and students lined the hall during the ceremony; they erupted with cheers and applause when Coes stepped from her room.
“I am completely overwhelmed and excited. I am truly blessed to be a part of the Bulloch County School System and Langston Chapel Middle School,” Coes said. “I can’t believe everyone was able to keep it a secret — especially my husband. To have him here, and have everyone here, makes me feel really good — knowing that I have so much support.”
In addition to her work at LCMS, Coes spends two Saturdays every month mentoring 30 area middle school girls to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math, as part of the Delta Academy program.
She also works with Ordered Steps Mentoring, which assists a girls’ home in Bulloch County, Greene said.
Coes is a 2008 graduate of Georgia Southern University, with a bachelor’s degree in special education. She received her master’s degree in teaching and learning from Georgia Southern in 2010.
Dr. Kymberly Drawdy, an associate professor in Georgia Southern’s College of Education, who has worked with Coes, was on hand for the ceremony.
“Jemelleh has a broad and deep knowledge of techniques and interventions for children with behavioral and learning problems,” she said.
Coes has also served as a clinical supervisor for practicum and student teachers from Georgia Southern for three years.
That is one of many points that will be reviewed in months ahead, as her profile is examined by state education leaders in the Georgia Teacher of the Year program.
“I thank everyone — my family, my friends, mentors, Georgia Southern, Langston Chapel, and Bulloch County as a whole,” Coes said. “Thank you so much for support and guidance; it has truly been an asset to me as a teacher and a person, and will continue to be as I go forward. I am very excited about an opportunity have state consideration.”
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.