Chamber announces education awards

Published 1:55 am Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce will present its education awards to Barbara Peek, Eric Searcy, Jana Clark and Samantha Hill during Thursday’s banquet.

The chamber named Peek elementary school teacher of the year. At present, she teaches fourth and fifth grade science at Andalusia Elementary School, and is a former reading teacher. In addition to teaching, she is responsible for AES’s recycling team, and its Green Team, a group of 16 fifth graders charged with the maintenance and continued growth of the school’s outdoor classroom.

But she said the most important thing she does to further learning objectives doesn’t take place in the classroom.

“I try my best to make personal connections with my students,” she wrote. “I go out of my way to let them know that I care about more than just their academic life. If they play on a sports team, I go to watch them play. If they are in a dance recital, I am in the audience. If I can’t be there, I ask them how their event went. I talk to them at the lunch table, at high school football games, and in the aisle at Wal-Mart.

“When children know that a teacher is willing to take time out of her schedule to attend to them, they act differently in class,” she said. “When that teacher praises (or reprimands) them, it means more. “

Building these relationships translates into students being more focused on success, she said.

“Mrs. Peek is an outstanding ambassador for teachers,” wrote principal Patty Taylor. “She gives generously of her time, and often her work extends beyond the walls of the classroom.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Mississippi State University and has done additional graduate work at Florida State and Troy University.

She is active in Christ the King Catholic Church and is well known in the community for having been the Andalusia swim team coach from 2002-2010. She also has been active in the Andalusia Junior Woman’s Club, Coterie Club, and local Mother’s Day Out programs.


Eric Searcy is being honored as the chamber’s middle school teacher of the year for the second time.

Searcy has been teaching since 1989, and had been at Andalusia Middle School since 1998.

“He has the ability to bond with his students on a daily basis whether teaching them a simple or difficult concept,” wrote AMS principal Victoria Anderson in her letter of recommendation. “He is a special teacher, one who was born to teach. He exhibits the character that enables him to be a wonderful teacher. He is caring, loving, patient and attentive to his students and co-workers.”

Co-worker Sandra Dendy, whose children Searcy has taught, wrote, “Mr. Searcy understands both students and the learning process to a degree that is exceptional even among our best teachers.”

“For Eric, teaching is more than a profession, it is his calling,” wrote his pastor, Dr. Fred Karthaus. “He approaches teaching as more than a job, but also as an opportunity to use his God-given gifts.”

He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Auburn University. He is an active member of First Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and Sunday School teacher.


The chamber selected Jana Clark secondary teacher of the year. Clark teaches family and consumer sciences at Florala High School.

Clark said in her family and consumer sciences class, students do a project that focuses on the family, the building block of society.

“The first family project I present is Flowerpots as Families,” she said. “The students determine how families are similar to flowerpots (nurture life, provide basic needs, can be broken, etc.). Then we discuss what breaks families apart and why these factors break them apart.

“The students then get to break their flowerpots using hammers, and they write the factors we discussed in class that break families apart on the broken pieces of their flowerpot,” she said. “The next step, of course, is mending the families. As a class, we discuss how we can successfully mend a family.”

The students put their flower pots back together with masking tape, then write ways families can be mended on the masking tape.

“We discuss that the ‘family’ is not as strong as it was originally and that it will have permanent scars,” she said. “However, mending a family is possible and it can still nurture life and growth.”

Clark said while her subject area isn’t a core, academic class, she feels as she prepares her students for life.

“Mrs. Clark is a teacher that has a genuine sense of compassion and caring for her students while still retaining an uncompromising set of standards and ideals,” wrote her principal, Donny Powell.

Clark earned an associate’s degree from LBWCC and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Montevallo.

She was nominated as AACTE’s family and consumer sciences new teacher of the year, and is a member of the Florala Civic Club.


The chamber selected AHS senior Samantha Hill as the outstanding student of the year.

Hill is ranked second in her class and has a 3.98 grade point average.

She is a member of the SGA, Usher Club, French Club, Literary Club, and is a founding member of the AHS Peer Helpers Club. She is a member of the yearbook staff and the AHS Marching Band, where she is colorguard captain.

She has volunteered for a number of charities, and works part-time at Samurai Japanese Steak House.

She was enrolled in the University of Alabama’s Capstone Summer Honors Program this past summer.

“Samantha is a well-rounded, organized student who makes valuable contributions to both the school and community,” Dr. Daniel Shakespeare wrote in his letter of recommendation.

She plans to pursue a degree in biology at the University of Alabama, and then enroll in medical school.


“My long-term goal is to become a pediatric oncologist at one of St. Jude’s children’s hospitals,” she said.