VALDOSTA -- Southeast Elementary School teacher Wyonnie Hardee was recognized recently by Sam's Club and the Wal-Mart Foundation for excellence in teaching.

"I love the children I teach, and I love my job," said Hardee, who was shocked by the announcement. "I think it's an honor to be recognized for what I do."

Hardee, who has been teaching with the Valdosta City School System for about 15 years, said it is an honor and a privilege to represent Sam's Club and all the other teachers nominated as their teacher of the year.

"This honor carries a responsibility to make sure I live up to the expectations it signifies," Hardee continued. "I have a responsibility to model what this teaching profession is all about, and that is serving. Teachers are servants ... for the children and for the community."

Paula Wade, marketing and team leader at Sam's Club, said every year local communities are encouraged to nominate an outstanding teacher.

"Out of all the nominations received in our store, Mrs. Hardee was the best."

Hardee was nominated by several individuals including Maria Belmer, whose son was in Hardee's fourth-grade class.

Belmer described Hardee as "dedicated, caring, and committed to her students."

"She has qualities that only time and experience can give," Belmer continued.

Belmer said the year her son was in Hardee's class, Hardee had her hands full but never let it get her down.

"She worked with children of all different levels, from below grade level to extremely gifted, from poverty to those who were well taken care of," Belmer said.

Added to this already difficult situation were a few kids with emotional and behavioral problems, Belmer added.

"She stayed determined that her children could and would learn," Belmer continued. "She encouraged them to do their best and work hard, and she always let them know that they were loved."

Hardee, Belmer said, is a valuable asset to the Valdosta City School System, and "we are, especially our children, blessed to have her."

Sam's Club's Teacher of the Year program, sponsored by the Wal-Mart Foundation, is designed to recognize local teachers who are doing an outstanding job teaching, leading, and mentoring today's youth. The program is designed to recognize a teacher who has gone above and beyond the normal expectations based on nominations received from customers and associates.

Each location selects one teacher to receive a certificate, a vest, and a $500 grant for his or her school.

Hardee said Southeast Elementary School administrators plan to use the money to buy some materials for the science classes, including motorized solar systems.

Additionally, school officials are planning to purchase incentives for the children as they master math skills through their accelerated math program.

"Sometimes you work and work, never knowing if what you are doing truly means anything to anyone," Hardee said. "This award has shown me that I do make a difference every single day."

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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