Teacher award winner says she tries to reach her students ‘where they are’

BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. — A Berkeley County high school teacher is being recognized nationally for her work to inspire students.

Karla Hilliard, an English 11 and Advanced Placement literature and composition teacher at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, is this year’s West Virginia winner of the Sanford Teacher Award recognizing 51 inspiring teachers in each state and Washington, D.C.

Karla Hilliard

“I think I just try to do what teachers everywhere do and that’s build a connection and a community with my students,” Hilliard said when asked about her approach to teaching.

“I try to reach them where they are, get to know them on a personal level, honor their identities and where they’re coming from and just try to see each and every student for his or her own potential. I try as best I can to create a community of belonging in my classroom.”

Hilliard’s first teaching job was in Hagerstown, Md.

She landed there after changing her major to English when she was in college after originally planning to study journalism.

“I sort of was just always working with kids. I was a camp counselor. I was an older sister to a much younger sibling. I coached and it seemed like a natural fit that I would turn to teaching,” she said.

Teacher nominations were accepted from educators, principals, parents and students through November of last year.

Being sought were teachers who engaged students in inspirational learning opportunities, supported student resiliency, developed strong connections, instilled a sense of curiosity and promoted “a strong student voice.”

Nominees were required to have a minimum of three years of classroom teaching experience.

The person who nominated Hilliard wrote this about her: “Ms. Hilliard inspires students to learn, to be successful, and to feel accepted and be challenged. She goes above and beyond for her students. There are not many teachers like her.”

The individual Sanford Teacher Award prize, with support from T. Denny Sanford, a South Dakota businessman and a philanthropist, was $10,000.

Sanford owns First Premier Bank.

One of the 51 winners will be named a grand prize winner for $50,000.

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