School of Education Honors Practitioners of Distinction

Award recognizes young and mid-career education alumni

The charter class of the School of Education’s Practitioner of Distinction Awards is (from left) Jay Levy, Shelly Clifford, Jessica Ivy and Wanikka Vance. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education has honored four outstanding alumni as part of its new Practitioner of Distinction Awards.

The school created the award to recognize mid-career educators who demonstrate exemplary work in their field. The 2017 honorees are: Shelley Clifford of Atlanta, Jessica Ivy of Starkville, Jay Levy of Canton and Wanikka Vance of Chicago.

The awards are a counterpart to the School of Education’s Hall of Fame, which honors alumni who have at least 25 years of service in education. The honorees were recognized May 12 at the school’s Hall of Fame ceremony at The Inn at Ole Miss.

Clifford received her bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in 2003 and was named Graduate Student of the Year in 2004 when she earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She has served as the head of the lower school at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School for six years in Atlanta.

She previously served as a third-, fifth- and sixth-grade teacher for seven years in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charleston, South Carolina.

“It’s really humbling to be celebrated like this,” Clifford said. “I hope that this will be an opportunity to reconnect with Ole Miss. I would love to come back and spend time with education students.”

Ivy earned three degrees from UM, including a doctorate in math education in 2011. She is an assistant professor of secondary education at Mississippi State University, where she also works with the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

“Receiving this award sends a message that people are starting to recognize the importance of teachers,” Ivy said. “I’m very honored to have received it and been a small part of the mission to support our educators.”

Levy graduated from the UM in 2011 with bachelor’s degree in English education. During his junior year, Levy was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, but he did not allow that to prevent him from pursuing his passion of teaching.

During Levy’s first year of teaching at Pisgah High School, not only did his English students earn the highest pass rate in Mississippi on the state subject area test, but he was also selected as teacher of the year.

“I began wondering if the students would still respond to me the same way since I am in a wheelchair,” Levy said. “I think they respected me more after I told them my story and I was open with them and let them ask questions.

“That’s how I always start class on the first day of school, and I always tell them to wear their seatbelt. It gives me a teachable moment to let them know that life is hard, but it’s possible to move on.”

Vance, who received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UM in 2003, has served as a Chicago elementary school teacher for 10 years. In 2011, she founded a school for pre-K to first-graders called Foundations 4 adVANCEment, which focuses on preparing young learners academically and socially to become college- and career-minded from their earliest stages of growth and development.

“This award is a great honor,” Vance said. “Most of the time when you leave your alma mater, you’re just gone. To know that they have actually been following me professionally is a big surprise to me, but also a great honor to be able to realize that the work I am doing is not in vain.”

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