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Teachers and students honored following Exceptional Childrens Week
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During the April Dawson County Board of Education meeting, Director of Exceptional Children Hershel Bennett recognized the efforts of educators and students across the system after celebrating Exceptional Children's Week early in March.

The Dawson County School System celebrated Exceptional Children's Week March 6-10 with the theme of Imagine, Believe, Achieve.

Part of the event was an art and writing contest that saw the largest number of entries for the event to date. There were 186 this year, according to Bennett.

New to the week-long celebration was a competition among the schools that allowed all of the Dawson County schools to earn points for the various ways each participated in the efforts.

Schools could earn points for every student that entered the contest, for bulletin boards, for exceptional students doing morning announcements and bonus points for overall winners.

"I had no idea how competitive our principals are," Bennett joked.

Bennett said that the competition was fierce, but the winner for the inaugural year was Riverview Elementary School. Principal Julia Mashburn accepted a trophy on behalf of the school.

Bennett also awarded Dawson County High School for the top student and staff trophy which was accepted by Principal Richard Crumley.

Also recognized during the meeting were the winners of the Extra Mile Award. These are given annually to staff who go above and beyond in their efforts with the exceptional children of Dawson County.

Bennett recognized Debbie Tauver and John Kenny.

Tauver works with special needs 3-year-olds to prepare them for pre-kindergarten and beyond.

"She is such a good fit with those kids and the staff," Bennett said. "If you are having a bad day and you just need a big pick-me-up, go peek in her window."

Kenny is the lead special education teacher and a football coach at the high school.

"He is such a great teacher, great coach and a great leader at the high school," Bennett said. "He took on a self-contained classroom that is very difficult this year and has made tremendous strides."

Each year, the department also recognizes one educator with the Philp Wright Award for overall dedication. The award is named for a 35-year educator who is retired.

"It is a big honor to receive this award," Bennett said.

Edith Banta, who is the lead teacher for the Community Based Instruction program at DCHS, was selected by her peers in the county.

The program takes exceptional students beyond the classroom to local businesses for real-life skills and in some cases, jobs.

"Last year after watching her for the last couple of years, I asked her to meet with me in May to start a CBI program at Dawson County High School for our students," Bennett said. "She didn't even know what it was at the time.

"I knew she was the right person. It's gone way above expectations. We have kids now who have jobs full time through her program. Half of her classroom day is out in businesses. She is teaching her math classes there. She is teaching her English classes there. These kids are doing basically internships and getting jobs. She built it from scratch, all the rules, paperwork, buses. It is amazing how much work she did."

Bennett also explained that in May of 2018 Banta will present to the state board of education on what it takes to build a successful CBI program.

For the art and writing contest, students were selected from each grade level for their artwork and writing samples that best reflected this year's theme.

This year's winners were: Michael Leid, Aryona Dunagan, Emily Kuhn, Vincent Bosch, Haley Lowman, Timothy Stapler, Natalie Boyett, Gunnar Stanek, Lillie Nichelson, Mia Calabrese, Kinsley Burns, Raven Samples, Zell Carver, Paola Ruiz, Claudia Summers, Dylan Thompson, Alexis Hill, Stormie Hacker, Will Dinsmore and Cheyanne McKinlay.

Also chosen were two overall district winners: Mya Smith from Robinson Elementary and Kathleen Artis from DCHS.