OXFORD, Miss. – When University of Mississippi senior Tammie Eldred began student teaching at Strayhorn Elementary School in Tate County, she quickly noticed the rural school was in need of a proper sign, a problem she would soon help solve.
Eldred, the December Education Student of the Month, organized and led the effort by the UM DeSoto chapter of Teachers of Tomorrow to erect a new sign after obtaining a $1,000 CLASS grant from the National Education Association.
“I noticed right away that the school didn’t have a sign,” explained Eldred, an elementary education major. “As I taught there, I fell in love with this school and I wanted to find a way to give back.”
To set the project into motion, Eldred, a former Memphis event planner, discovered the grant, wrote the proposal and organized local businesses and the Strayhorn parent-teacher organization, which donated time and labor. The new sign was officially unveiled Nov. 28 at the school.
“I can’t say how grateful and appreciative we are,” said James Bolen, principal of Strayhorn Elementary. “For years, people have had trouble finding us or would confuse us with the high school. It’s a great beautification of the school, and we’re very happy.”
Eldred joined the School of Education, the state’s largest institution for teacher and educational leadership preparation, in 2010 when she began studying at the university’s DeSoto campus. Teaching was a long-awaited career move for the Olive Branch resident.
“It’s something I’ve always thought about and felt I’d be good at,” Eldred said. “When my two oldest children were grown and I heard about the 2+2 program at Northwest, I decided it was time to give it a try.”
Like many nontraditional students, Eldred has pushed through her fair share of obstacles. As a 45-year-old freshman embarking on a four-year degree program, she sometimes felt intimidated while adapting to attending school full time, working and being a mother.
Today, she’s only a few credits short of graduation and has maintained a 3.9 GPA, serves president of the DeSoto chapter of Teachers of Tomorrow and has been inducted into multiple honor societies, including Phi Kappa Phi.
“Sometimes I feel like an unofficial class president,” she joked. “It was unusual at first being the oldest person in class, but as I progressed and started taking more classes, I started to earn everyone’s respect.”
Eldred’s affinity for grant writing has been a valuable skill in her student career. Besides the sign grant, she is awaiting word on a $2,000 SOAR grant from the NEA to buy Nook tablets for special education students in DeSoto County schools. Through her research, she’s found and acquired a number of personal scholarships and grants for tuition, and has taken out only one student loan.
“A lot of my former work knowledge was in marketing and being the person who brings all the details together,” she said. “I like the research. In education, there are so many grants and opportunities out there that people just don’t know about.”
In October, she also had the honor of co-presenting research on children’s literature in elementary science classrooms to in-service teachers with one of her professors and a fellow student at the Mississippi Science Teachers Association conference in Jackson.
“Tammie is highly motivated and involved in campus activities and in local schools,” said Stacey Britton, assistant professor of secondary education and the faculty member who nominated Eldred for the award. “The in-service teachers were excited about the new ideas and complimented their excitement and preparedness for teaching science.
Eldred plans to finish her student teaching at Lake Cormorant Elementary School this spring and graduate in May. She hopes to obtain a teaching position in DeSoto County upon graduation.