The years melted away quickly as senior Nokia Givens gave her kindergarten teacher a big hug at the FAME Awards reception. She and Kellie Hawkins Hasenbalg hadn’t seen each other since the teacher left Dixie Elementary when Nokia was in first grade.
“The main thing I remember is she always smiled and always had a positive attitude. She was very nice and loving,” said Nokia, who will graduate from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School this spring.
Before Sunday’s ceremony, Nokia admitted she was “happy and nervous at the same time” but also glad for the chance to reminisce about her years in Fayette County Public Schools.
“It’s something you don’t always get to do. You go back and think about all the teachers you ever had, so it’s a good way to end (your senior year),” she said.
The annual FAME Awards give seniors a special opportunity to thank that one exceptional teacher, personable coach or trustworthy mentor who truly made a difference in their lives. They submit essays about their nominees and introduce them at the districtwide ceremony.
Nokia, an only child, wrote about how “Ms. Hawkins” alleviated her fears and comforted her whenever she was upset and how she fostered a pleasant first-classroom experience.
“You’ve stayed at home since you were born and you’re stepping into a big environment with a whole lot of kids, so you’re nervous and you want someone to be there for you when that parent is not,” Nokia explained. “I knew there was someone there to make me smile, make my day and cheer me up. It made coming to school a lot better.”
Thanks to her teacher’s efforts, Nokia overcame her shyness and branched out to make friends.
“I would love to see her again just once to thank her for being a very influential person in my life,” she said in her essay’s closing.
Hasenbalg, who now teaches at Anne Mason Elementary in Scott County, had no trouble recognizing a grown-up Nokia at the FAME reception.
“I remember her smile,” Hasenbalg said. “She was tiny and always smiling and happy and eager to learn and have fun.”
When she heard what Nokia had written about their relationship, she acknowledged one of her priorities has been to put her young students at ease.
“I want to start them out on a positive note. I for sure want them to like school and for it to be a warm, safe, loving place for them,” Hasenbalg said. “In kindergarten, that’s the big obstacle – that they feel nervous. Ten or 12 years ago, not a lot of kids went to preschool, so sometimes I was the first experience they had. I am very affectionate, so I looked at my kindergarten students as my own and loved on them and hugged on them. I wanted to teach them the academics, but it was important that they felt loved and cared for while they were with me.”
Hasenbalg appreciated that Nokia thought of her for the FAME Awards.
“I got teary-eyed. I was amazed that after so long, she would remember me. That made me feel really good inside,” she said. “After all these years, to be remembered means you were doing your job well.”
Article and photo courtesy of Tammy Lane, Fayette County Schools