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Carpenter makes literature relevant in today’s world

Donna Carpenter tells her students they have a story to tell.
Carpenter, named teacher of the year at Vicksburg High School, encourages her students to write in her English class.
Often times, she said, students don’t want to write essays because they don’t think they have anything to say. In an effort to quell those concerns, Carpenter breaks down the parts of an essay deconstructing the thesis statement, the hook, separate sections and transitional areas to make it seem less daunting and more possible.
“I reassure them they each have a story to tell,” she said. “In breaking the essay down like this in chunks, working on one section at a time, students are empowered to write. They no longer feel walled off; they become more confident in their ability to put their thoughts onto a page, learning that this process is not so daunting as they had believed.”
It is her goal to get her students writing cohesively and with clarity. She helps students one-on-one, and she even sees classmates helping each other as they work. By working with students as individuals, getting to know them and know their insecurities, she feels she can truly reach them and help them progress.
When it comes to literature, Carpenter said the class discusses the time period, themes, history, customs and actions in the piece as they read. She asks her students to summarize what they’ve read in order to express what they have learned from the story, what they think about the characters’ choices, and then compare it to life currently. By associating what happened in the past to current events, the students learn a valuable lesson.
“This helps make the reading of a much earlier time period relevant. Students begin to see that while times change, basic human nature remains consistent through the passage of time. Real learning then occurs,” she said.
Students don’t only read and write in her class. She has students create PowerPoint presentations, do role-playing activities to demonstrate comprehension of a story, and create original artwork, music or models to interpret a theme.
“Having a variety in assessment allows for more active student engagement and makes learning more relevant as well as more enjoyable for all,” she said.
Carpenter has been a teacher for 36 years, and 30 of those years have been spent at Vicksburg High. Currently she teaches English IV, dual credit and advanced placement classes and is the English department chair for the school.
She spent her first six years teaching at Porters Chapel Academy, and since 2008 she has also been an adjunct teacher at Hinds Community College.
“I teach because I enjoy working with teens, helping them reach their potential,” she said. “I have been called to teach.”
She has a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Louisiana Tech University and a master’s degree in English and educational media from the University of Louisiana Monroe.
Carpenter is a National Board Certified Teacher and has Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition Certification. She is VHS’s assistant volleyball coach, and she keeps the scorebook at home basketball games.
Carpenter is a member of Mississippi Professional Educators, Delta Kappa Gamma and Crossway Church. Her husband is retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and currently owns a business. The couple has two grow sons who both live in Madison.
Twenty-one teachers in Warren County were nominated for teacher of the year. The Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce has selected a panel of educators to interview each school’s chosen teacher and will choose one elementary and one secondary teacher of the year on Feb. 15. Both teachers will receive $1,000.
Today’s story is the 10th in a series of articles on each teacher up for the honor of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Teacher of the Year.