EAST PRAIRIE -- Donna Turnbo-Smith, principal at A.J. Martin Elementary School, opened a Tuesday afternoon assembly with an apology to the third through sixth-grade students.
"I brought you all here under false pretenses," said Turnbo-Smith. Teachers and students were told the assembly was the kickoff for a fundraiser. "But that's not the truth."
The actual reason for the ceremony was to honor one of the school's teachers and to celebrate a grant to the school.
Shaelynn Nordwald, a fifth grade teacher there, was named the Teacher of the Year by the Cape Girardeau Sam's Club. She received a $100 gift card to buy supplies for her classroom, in addition to a personalized certificate; and the school was awarded a $1,000 grant. The school also presented her with a flower bouquet.
Kevin Hill, Sam's Club membership manager, called Tuesday's assembly "a very special event," before announcing Nordwald as the Teacher of the Year.
Hill noted that the awards have been given for 13 years now, and each Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Neighborhood Market Store and Wal-Mart Distribution Center takes the nominations during August.
"It's a very tough choice," he said. The award recipients are selected by a committee of facility associates and across the nation, about 4,000 teachers receive the honor annually.
Nordwald was nominated by a student, but that student's identity is not known. The nomination read:
"This teacher believes in her students. She never gives up on us.
During MAP testing, I thought I'd just give up, I thought I could not do it. But then I thought, I can't give up on Mrs. Nordwald, because she didn't give up on me. She's what got me through the year and now I can believe in myself."
Turnbo-Smith said Nordwald "definitely deserves" the award.
"Probably the one thing that makes her different from other teachers is that she builds relationships with the kids and gets to know them on a personal basis," said Turnbo-Smith.
The award was a surprise -- but something Turnbo-Smith has known about for three or so week.
"And I've been sitting on this secret for that long," she said.
Turnbo-Smith wanted so much to keep it a surprise that she waited until this morning to contact Norwald's family and invite them to the assembly. And it was when they walked out of the kitchen area at the beginning of the assembly that Nordwald, who is in her third year of teaching at Martin Elementary, became red in the face and knew something bigger was going on than just a fundraiser kickoff.
"I almost passed out," Nordwald said after the presentation. "It's just wonderful, and I was very surprised."
Nordwald's mother, Beverly White, said she is "very proud," of her daughter.
"She is very hardworking and effective," said White.
White is also a teacher at Martin Elementary, and Nordwald said she has learned quite a bit from her mother. Her husband, Nick, is a teacher, too.
Nordwald said the award is gratifying -- especially to have come from a student's nomination.
"That's better than any other award I could get," she said. "And that's why I do it. I just love (teaching) and I really enjoy it. There's nothing else I could ever think about doing."
Turnbo-Smith said she and Nordwald will decide the best way to spend the $1,000 grant. As of Tuesday, the two were discussing using the funds help pay for the gas and other expenses for a field trip to Paducah, Ky., to see the play "The Magic Tree House," which coincides with lessons Nordwald has taught her class.