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'I know what my purpose is': CHCCS CHAMPions recognizes teachers, school staff


The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Administrative Office building in Chapel Hill, N.C., is pictured on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.

Marcus Gear, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Smith Middle School, was sitting at his computer and grading assignments when he received an email — he had been named one of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools' CHAMPions.

The CHAMPion, or Celebrating Heroes and Magnificent People, program is a partnership between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation that recognizes outstanding students, staff and community members for their work and contributions to the district.

Nominations can be submitted by community members through the CHAMPion portal on the CHCCS website. Sarita Allen, the associate director for support of the Public School Foundation, said final honorees are then decided by a committee of individuals from throughout the district.

The CHAMPion program was first organized during the 2021-22 school year. Honorees are recognized quarterly, and the committee aims to name five to six each round.

This quarter’s four honorees are Gear, Ephesus Elementary School crossing guard Larry Chadbourne, Phillips Middle School sixth grade social studies teacher and field hockey coach Kelly Fox and East Chapel Hill High School Exceptional Children resource teacher Eimy Rivas Plata.

“I got the email and I was shocked because, being only my second year — just really, really taken aback,” Gear said.

Allen said honorees are visited and presented a goodie bag and a $25 check.

She said the district is thrilled to be able to publicly recognize the honorees for their work.

Gear was nominated for the CHAMPion award by student members of Collective Uplift, an affinity group for young men of color that he started in April at Smith Middle School.

“I want the African American male students here at this school to feel like they have a place that they can come to, they can talk,” Gear said. “They can get life advice, and I can help them navigate middle school and living in Chapel Hill and navigate college and high school and other areas of their life, and so winning the award and being nominated by them, it just made me feel like I know what my purpose is.”

Chadbourne, another honoree, has been working part time as a crossing guard for almost seven years.

He said he enjoys the community the role exposes him to and the opportunity to get to know students and their families.

“I really think that teachers need as much recognition as they can get, but other people besides the teachers like the custodians and the kitchen staff and people like that, that do things at the school that are very important,” he said.

He said he appreciates the recognition for those carrying out these roles, which often go unseen to members of the community.

“Sometimes people aren't aware that you're part of the school because you're not actually in the school building, and so there are a lot of people that don't even see you because they're not walking to school, they’re driving,” Chadbourne said. “It's kind of nice to get that acknowledgment.”

Allen said the committee and the district works to make sure the honorees represent a wide variety of individuals in the district, including teachers, staff, students and other employees.

Allen, a retired teacher, said this recognition “goes a long way” for educators who work passionately in roles they often receive little recognition or compensation for.

“Anything that we can do at this time, to kind of fill their cups in a way, just a little bit, just for a moment, we are willing to do that,” she said.

@DTHCityState |

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