The Clarendon County School District named Katherine (Kat) Coker, an Anderson University doctoral student, as District Teacher of the Year.
Coker is currently working on her doctorate of educational leadership at the Anderson University College of Education. She also received her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education in 2019 and her Master’s in Education in 2022, both From Anderson University.
Coker, who is a special services teacher at Walker Gamble Elementary School in New Zion, South Carolina, said, “I am very excited and honored to represent the community of Clarendon County and represent our school district. I really believe that Clarendon County is unique—it’s just a special place. At Walker Gamble, I have never seen a school with such a positive culture and climate, so it is really such an honor to represent that.”
As a special services teacher, Coker helps her students learn important skills they can take with them throughout their lives. Last year she and her students started the Java Jeep. Coker explained that the Java Jeep would visit each classroom and sell coffee and breakfast pastries to Walker Gamble’s teachers.
“The Java Jeep is such a great opportunity for my students to take learning outside of the four classroom walls and go out into our community and purchase different items we need for our coffee cart... It teaches them how to handle, count, and identify money, while also modeling a strong a work ethic,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see how far that has brought them. One student last year actually told his mom—they were going to the beach and they were supposed to leave Thursday night—“sorry mom, I have to work tomorrow.’ They waited to go to the beach until after he was done working the Java Jeep.”
Coker feels strongly that all students should have the opportunity to learn and grow. Experiences she had as a student volunteering for Special Olympics while in middle school and high school were transformative for her.
“We had a unified PE class where we were paired with students from the special education classrooms to participate in unified sports, such as volleyball, basketball and bocce. It was so much fun and such a good high school experience to be able to have that time block each day where we were able to volunteer our time and help out with the special education program at our school,” Coker said. “And then my sophomore year I started working at Camp Burnt Gin in Wedgefield, South Carolina. It’s a summer camp for children and adults with special health care needs. I expected it to be just a fun summer job, but it quickly turned into a new lifestyle and world perspective for me. It was just such a safe and comforting environment where I was able to share a mutual passion with my peers for working with children and adults with special needs.”
Coming to Anderson
Coker remembers hearing her grandmother, an Anderson alumna, talk about the beauty of Anderson’s campus and the community. Her grandmother passed away when she was a high school freshman, but Coker felt a desire to tour the Anderson University campus. She felt that Anderson would provide her with an education that upheld Christian values.
While at Anderson University, Coker did her student teaching at Midway Elementary School. A highlight for her while in college was regular visits from the Rainbow Gang, a free day activities program for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Anderson County. A special part of that experience for Coker was meeting James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, an Anderson native who was the inspiration for a Sports Illustrated article and the 2003 movie “Radio.”
Commenting on her doctoral program at Anderson, Coker said, “I really love it because of the community aspect. That’s not something I expected to gain from it because I live three hours away and join each week via Zoom. We have such an amazing cohort and I’ve gotten to know a lot of amazing educators through the program.”
Her advice for those wishing to enter special education is, “All students should be given the opportunity to learn. It’s such a blessing and a mission field to be almost that vessel for exceptional students in their educational journey to have the opportunity to learn and to grow, especially in inclusive environments like where I teach now.”
The Anderson University College of Education
The Anderson University College of Education focuses on the intellectual development of the student while being attentive to the ideals of character, servant leadership and cultural engagement. Programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, onsite or online. Details can be found here.
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