Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

First-Class Teacher, 2013 ; Ocker's 'Passion' Earns Her Award

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

First-Class Teacher, 2013 ; Ocker's 'Passion' Earns Her Award

Article excerpt

Others may not understand why Sherry Ocker volunteers at least 10 hours a week on after-school tutoring with students at the Westbrook Evolution trailer, but quite simply, it's her "passion." Because of her work and dedication to the after-school program at Westbrook Mobile Home Court, Ocker, a fourth-and fifth-grade teacher at Highland Elementary, is the 2013 recipient of the Jefferson Award. Ocker, 54, will be presented with the Jefferson Award at Leadership Evansville's Celebration of Leadership tonight at The Centre.

"It was just very exciting," she said about winning the award. "And it felt very rewarding because I'm doing something that I want to do, that I enjoy."

The Jefferson Award program was brought to the Tri-State 13 years ago by the Evansville Courier & Press, joining a nationwide network of more than 100 media affiliates from 71 markets. Its purpose is to honor individuals for their achievements and contributions through public and community service to inspire and encourage others to get involved.

In 1972, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Sen. Robert Taft Jr., and Sam Beard established the Jefferson Awards. They are presented on two levels - national and local. Recipients are ordinary people who do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition or reward.

Ocker said she feels the award belongs to a group of people who joined forces to make the Westbrook program happen. The process took more than two years to evaluate, refine and present, but Ocker believed the Westbrook Evolution program that centers around classroom learning and social skills was needed for her students. The trailer, the first learning facility of its kind in the area, opened for its first summer program last May.

Ocker has been teaching for about 15 years. She came to Highland around five years ago from a title school, a school whose student population is low enough on the poverty scale, more than 90 percent, to warrant extra funding for school-offered services. With the help of school administrators, teachers and parents, Ocker studied data about students in their community to devise a solution to help those struggling with poverty have every possible opportunity to succeed in school.

Now a group of Highland students leap off the school bus and dash happily to the trailer twice a week to participate in Homework Help; other programs include a robotics competition group and 4-H Mad Science. After-school tutoring is from 2:30 to 5 p.m., when eager students receive a snack, get extra help on homework, participate in educational activities and play games like Apples to Apples and air hockey.

Westbrook Evolution would not be possible, Ocker said, without Highland principal Beth Johns.

"I feel I am getting all of this credit, but none of it would have happened if it had not been for Beth, because she's the one that took the proposal to (then-Superintendent Vince) Bertram, she's the one who had the connection," Ocker said. "But she says, 'You're the glue,' so I'm the glue that holds it together is what she tells me. But if it weren't for her, none of this would be here."

According to Johns, she was instrumental in the beginning stages of the program when it was just a thought and concept, and many people worked to get the momentum off the ground. …

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