LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Ashley Riley

Position: Eighth Grade English Teacher
School: Southaven Middle School
School District: Desoto County Schools
City, State: Southaven, MS

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Ashley Riley was nominated by her friend, Samantha Bustos.

"Ms. Riley has been the accelerated English teacher at Southaven Middle School for as long as I’ve known her," said Bustos. "She always stood out because of the books she assigned the class to read. Most books that children are assigned to read are not ones they would usually pick themselves, but Ms. Riley seemed to flip the script and assign the kinds of books kids are interested in, such as 'Throne of Glass' by Sarah J. Maas and 'The Hobbit' by J. R. R. Tolkein. She did not stop there and continues to obtain class sets of popular books from today’s bestselling YA authors, such as Leigh Bardugo and Holly Black, for her students to enjoy together."

Ms. Riley is dedicated to creating an entertaining environment in her classroom. There’s always something new on her walls, whether it's hand-drawn decorations she made herself for various holidays, or the latest projects from her students. Holidays are not the only excuse to decorate; anyone who visits on September 22nd will find themselves in The Shire celebrating Bilbo Baggins’ birthday. It's an excellent way to bring the book they were just studying to life.

Speaking of bringing books to life, even more impressive is her annual trip to Walt Disney World with the winners of her Disney Resort Project. To explore information, reading, and writing standards, Ms. Riley’s class reads “Inside the Magic Kingdom: 7 Keys to Disney’s Success” by Tom Connellan. They compete to create brand new Disney Resort hotels that encompass the seven keys learned from the book. The students design the lobby, multiple restaurants with menus, hotel rooms that include suites and villas, pools, gift shops, and lots of activities for resort guests, as well an informational booklet all about their resort that includes word choice that goes along with their resort’s theme. The winners get the chance to take a Disney Youth Education Series class called “Managing Your Personal Brand” at Walt Disney World while they are visiting and exploring how the seven keys from the book are displayed throughout the parks and hotels within Walt Disney World.

Every year, Ms. Riley ends the year with an award ceremony in which each student wins a “Riley Award” for something that makes them special. She always makes a huge production out of it, and the students are allowed to give an acceptance speech if they wish. It's such an uplifting way to end the year, and the students highly enjoy it. 


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