Varnado and Kitchens chosen Outstanding Educators of the Year

Published 7:29 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

For the 30th consecutive year, the Vicksburg Warren Chamber of Commerce honored 21 local educators with a luncheon and awarded the top educators in the community Wednesday at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Monique Varnado, a fifth-grade social studies teacher at Vicksburg Intermediate School, was chosen the Elementary Educator of the Year, while Teresa Kitchens, a leadership teacher at the Academy of Innovation, was selected the Secondary Educator of the Year. Each received a $1,000 check sponsored by Ameristar Casino.

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A panel of former educators interviewed and selected the top two elementary and secondary educators among the Teachers of the Year who were chosen by their peers at their respective schools.

Teaching was not in Varnado’s initial plan after receiving a biology degree from Alcorn State University and a cytotechnology degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“For 11 years I sat behind a microscope, never really having to interact with anyone,” said Varnado, who also received an MBA in business administration from Mississippi College. “I’ve worked since I was 16 and always enjoyed those jobs that allowed me to interact with and serve people, especially children. It started weighing on me heavily that I needed to be working in my own hometown, doing something that benefitted my community. Seeing and hearing the need for teachers, I knew this was the position in which I could make the biggest impact for the most deserving segment of our population.”

Varnado said she is so glad she made the decision to get into education.

“This seems unreal,” Varnado said after winning. “I didn’t intend on doing this, but I learned a long time ago whenever God is directing you to do something, just go.”

Varnado originally interviewed for an art teacher position with the Vicksburg Warren School District, but learned there was a need for a fifth-grade English teacher at VIS and has been at the school ever since.

“I took an alternate route, but I’m so glad I made that choice.”

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi College, Kitchens has been an educator for 15 years.

“I can’t think of a specific moment that I decided to become a teacher,” Kitchens, a leadership teacher for seventh- and eighth-graders at AOI, said. “I think back on my life and feel that the desire has always been there. I have always wanted to help children think about their future and to improve their lives. Being a teacher allows me to make a difference for my students.”

She has taught within the Vicksburg Warren School District at Beechwood Elementary, Warren Central Intermediate and Bovina Elementary.

“I’m speechless,” Kitchens said after winning the award. “I really don’t know what to say other than I am truly honored. This means so much.”

Rachel Dean, a second-grade teacher at Bowmar Elementary School, was chosen the first runner-up for Elementary Educator of the Year and the $500 check from Mutual Credit Union that goes along with it. Dean has been an elementary school teacher in the Vicksburg Warren School District since 2010.

“Teaching is my passion, my calling in life, and I cannot picture myself doing anything else,” Dean said.

The first runner-up for Secondary Educator of the Year is Ebony Gardner, an algebra teacher and swim coach at Vicksburg High School. She also received a $500 check from Mutual Credit Union.

“This is just a blessing. I’m shocked,” said Gardner after being honored.