By IVY HERRON
Siblings Regan and Tyler Hellums think their teacher is pretty special and deserving of recognition. It was because of the their nomination, in which they outlined her special qualities, that Rogene Morge, a first-grade teacher at Jackson Township Elementary, is the Wal-Mart 2005 Teacher of the Year.
"They're always doing something funny around here. We all really have a good time," Morge said of the staff and students at Jackson. She said that with retirement close, she thought it was all a practical joke. "That is, until I saw the manager of Wal-Mart come in the room, then I was completely blown away. It was quite an honor, especially with all the students, staff and my family there."
Brazil Wal-Mart Manager Russell Long presented Morge with her award and a $1,000 super-sized check for display in the school.
Since 1995, Wal-Mart has recognized more than 22,000 "teachers who play such an important role in growing and shaping young people today" in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
These are principles that Morge, who believes teaching is not a job, but a privilege, holds dear.
"In the past, most families were structured around a single income with a parent at home to help aid in educational development," Morge said. "But now, with both parents working, a teacher who regularly spends eight hours a day with a student in the classroom is the major motivating factor in many childrens' lives and development."
These changing roles are the reason that Morge makes it her purpose to get parents involved in their children's education.
"I make it my job to work closely with parents because this involvement is crucial to student success," she said.
With Morge winning the Wal-Mart 2005 Teacher of the Year Award, the school also received $1,000, which has been used to fund educational field trips for the students. In addition, Morge received $50 to be used in her classroom.
"My students had an idea of how I should spend the money right away," Morge said of her class, which is called the "M&M's Kids" because they are Mrs. Morge's students. "They wanted me to buy 50 pounds of M&M's candies, which I haven't done. But I'll put it to good use."
Eligible to compete for the Wal-Mart State Teacher of the Year award, Morge could receive an additional $10,000 for her school and be entered in the national competition to win an additional prize of a $25,000 grant for her school.
Wal-Mart has donated more than $15 million to local schools in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In 2004, Indiana received $53,000 in educational grant awards from the company.
But Morge is a little more concerned with her students' last week of school than all the fuss about the award.
"It's a wrap-up time for the students. We go over everything that happened during the year, what they liked, how we can improve and do better," Morge said of the busy time. "It can make things hectic and feel like a zoo sometimes."
Morge feels it is important to maintain a relationship with her students and their families even in the summer months. That is why she plans a get-together time during the summer break at Forest Park for a picnic or a swim party at her house. Not everyone can come because of family activities, but many parents and their children do.
"We always have a good time keeping in touch during the time we get together," she said. "I don't like just being their teacher. Hopefully I've been able to impress upon my students some of my expectations and ideals along with the fact that I care about them. I like being more than a teacher. I like being their friend."