Sheikla Blount was nominated by a colleague, Jason Mayfield.
Ms. Blount has made a difference in the lives of students at Columbiana Middle School for the past ten years. She is nationally board certified and has been successfully renewed by its standards. She has also been a leader at the local level for other teachers and, most importantly, for students.
"I've known Sheikla since she first came to the middle school after years of teaching kindergarteners," said Mayfield. "She made an immediate difference here, establishing a welcoming and open media center, a place where all students felt comfortable working. She would open the library early and would keep it open until the very end of the school year. All of these actions were new to the school.
In the years she has worked at Columbiana Middle School, Ms. Blount went through the national boards process. She taught for ten years afterwards before she went through the renewal process, and she has continually worked on something new for the library every year. She helped establish a Battle of the Books competition at the county level, a celebration of reading for local students. Once the competition was up and running, she turned it over to another teacher to sponsor. Afterwards, Ms. Blount began sponsoring a JUNA (Junior United Nations Assembly) program for students. For several years, she has taken a JUNA team to the state competition, where they've placed in several categories each year.
None of that may sound unusual, unless one knows about her school. She has students who struggle financially, and her school's free/reduced lunch rate is around 50 percent. Columbiana Middle School was previously known as the "black" school; it was built "across the tracks" in the 1960s in an effort to stay off desegregation. When students go to JUNA, they're competing with stiff competition. Moreover, Ms. Blount has always tried to lead JUNA, like most everything she has ever done, with an eye on reaching students who don't normally compete in anything, or students who haven't found their niche. After math team, the Scholars' Bowl, the athletic teams, and additional clubs have made their picks, Ms. Blount makes her picks, encouraging students who need an outlet. Yearly, she takes students in the JUNA group and helps them shine.
Through the library, Ms. Blount has sponsored programs where students were encouraged to read the equivalent of 20 books. She has had years where she sets up incentives to help the students check out books more often. One year, the goal was to keep "clean accounts," or accounts without fines or fees. Last year, she led her school through its first student-led conferences.
Ms. Blount picked up yearbook duty when no one else volunteered for the job. She hosted another class during her planning time this year and has always kept an open room reserved for the television news show her nominator puts on for the school. She has made a difference in the lives of all students, and most importantly, she has stayed in their lives.
"Personally, she helped me apply for money to go for national boards, and she's been a gracious aid and help all year long during my process of applying," said Mayfield. "She is a gem, her heart is big, and we are blessed to have her."