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South Arbor Charter Academy Teacher Excels in Toughest Year of Her Career

Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2020-21 NHA Excellence Awards, a program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.

Teaching sixth grade at an award-winning level has given Abby Vermeulen a look at the future needs of the younger scholars she now molds.
 
She finished this past school year, her fourth at South Arbor Charter Academy, teaching second grade, and was honored for her time as a sixth-grade teacher as part of the 2020-21 National Heritage Academies Excellence Awards.
 
“I kind of have an idea of where they started and where they're going to end up in sixth grade with NHA, it helps me build,” she said. “I know they're going to need this terminology so I might as well start using it now type of thing.”
 
Teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t easy for Vermeulen, but she is proud of what she and her students accomplished in a difficult situation.
 
“To be honored for what I would consider the toughest year of my teaching career is really honoring. It’s humbling because last year was pretty tough,” she said. “I had 52 virtual students, so almost twice that of my team combined. To be honored for that is means a lot. It was a lot of hours, a lot of work.”
 
Vermeulen’s sister and mother shared in the surprise online celebration. Keeping Vermeulen in the dark about the award was no easy feat given the company she keeps in the classroom.
 
“My family kept it quiet. My students apparently had done a project the week before, on a day that I was taking a day off and not one of them said a word, and that's pretty impressive,” she said. “With 29 second graders, not one of them spilled the beans, so it was pretty awesome.”
 
Moving from sixth to second grade might be different conceptually, but Vermeulen said things don’t change much at a base level.
 
“Just being able to meet kids, where they’re at and helping them learn to advocate for themselves,” she said. “Giving them the words to say, like, ‘I don't like it when you do this, because it makes me feel …’ instead of just yelling ‘Stop’ and helping them come up with that vocabulary, and watching my kids use it without me having to prompt them at this point in the year is cool.
 
“It’s really incredible to be able to see them walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, that whistling is really bothering me from getting my work done. Can you stop?’ and to see the kids you know interact that way and not just yell across the room.”
 
Vermeulen’s time at Children’s Creative Center, first as a camper in preschool to being on staff since she was in high school, has allowed her to teach at every level. She stills goes back every summer, deepening her already strong roots in education. The kids’ interests might change among age groups and from season to season, but Vermeulen is there every year trying to figure out how to connect.
 
“Teaching has always been in my blood,” she said. “I’ve been told from a very young age; everyone knew I was going to be a teacher.
 
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Vermeulen!
South Arbor Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 98 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.