McCullough brings a little ‘sunshine’

Published 8:44 pm Saturday, February 10, 2018

Part of an ongoing series featuring the teachers nominated for Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Teacher of the Year honors.

In Emily McCullough’s first grade classroom kindness is tangible.

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After having issues with students pushing each other or stealing pencils early in the school year, McCullough created what she calls sunshine sticks. Now, when a student upsets or takes something from a classmate, they have to physically return a little sunshine, or happiness to them.

“I always say sunshine, like happiness, because it stands out more with little kids,” McCullough said. “If they take somebody’s pencil, I will say, ‘you took some happiness from them, so you need to give it back.’ They give it back by taking a sunshine stick out of their pocket and giving it to the other kids. They physically did something to upset them, and then they physically have to give them something.”

The sunshine sticks are just one part of McCullough’s goal to build a family like atmosphere in her classroom. That starts from the very beginning of the school year when she works to build a sense of community among her students. It  then carries over into everything she does from how she disciplines students to her daily interactions with them.

“If you do something wrong I am not just going to scold you. I am going to help them work through their problems,” McCullough said. “I feel like once you make a kid feel safe and loved in your classroom it is so much easier to teach them.”

McCullough is in her third year teaching first grade at Bowmar Elementary and is her school’s nominee for the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Her commitment to building a family like atmosphere in her class stems from her original reason for getting into education.

“I had a cousin who had a child with special needs and realized how much he needed somebody and it made me realize that all kids probably need somebody,” McCullough said. “He had great teachers and not every kid does. I want to make sure there is somebody in every child’s life who loves them and shows them what it feels like to be loved.”

Working in first grade can be a “rollercoaster some days,” McCullough said, as students adjust to the growing demands placed upon them, but it is the small victories where she feels like she has moved mountains and the drastic growth she sees in her students that makes first grade so important to her. 

“It is a huge year of growth,” she said. “When students come to me, a lot of them don’t have good handwriting, a lot of them can’t read at all, and then by the time that they end first grade, I have seen so much growth in them.”

McCullough graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2015 with a bachelors in education and moved to Vicksburg to work at Bowmar.

“It means I am doing something right and it means that other people see that,” McCullough said of being chosen as her school’s teacher of the year. “It is a huge honor, especially in my third year for people to say, ‘she’s doing good enough that we are going to vote her teacher of the year.’”

The Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce will choose one elementary and one secondary teacher of the year at the chamber luncheon Feb. 21. The winner of each award will receive $1,000 from Ameristar Casino and the runner-up for each award will receive $500 from Mutual Credit Union.

“It would mean so much to me because I am somebody new to Vicksburg,” McCullough said of her reaction if she won the award.