By Tammy Allen
It’s just an old trophy from a spelling bee dated 1980. Most people would leave it in the attic or stored in the basement of their parents’ homes, collecting dust and forgotten. It proudly sits in my principal’s office on the top shelf displayed with my books.
It represents me and who I am today.
I was raised in poverty. That’s hard to say, but I have come to face it over the years. My dad was the only one with a job and my mom never got her driver’s license which made being involved in after-school activities nearly impossible. We lived in a trailer on approximately five acres and I didn’t realize I was “poor” until I got to middle school. We had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and love that sustained our family of five. We got by on what we had and looking back, it was all I really needed.
In the early 70s, as a young child, I had severe asthma attacks that would usually keep me down and out for several days. We had no medical insurance and my parents couldn’t afford a doctor, so I would lay around the house until I felt better. I had two younger siblings that got to enjoy the great outdoors while I was stuck inside. Books became my friend. Nancy Drew and I solved many mysteries together and I even joined the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins a time or two. I found a fascination with words, and as I read, if I didn’t know a word, I looked it up in the dictionary. I also liked completing crossword puzzles and word searches.
Flash forward to 1980. All through school, I was an introvert and my head was always in a book. I visited the library often and had an eclectic reading appetite. That being said, I was not outgoing and didn’t have a lot of friends. Then it came time for the annual spelling bee. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Terri Gillette, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself: my hidden talent for spelling. She nurtured that talent, and I won the spelling bee that year. I was so happy, and my parents were so proud. After winning the spelling bee, my self-confidence grew and I started engaging more with people. I had several teachers after Mrs. Gillette that inspired me and without them, I would not be where I am today (Mrs. Crews, Mrs. Hauck, Mrs. Brandt, Mr. McPherson, Mr. Campbell, just to name a few). I want to thank them for taking the time and inspiring that nerdy young girl that is now a principal in the same district where she grew up.
I often get teased about my spelling bee trophy and asked why I still have it. I usually joke back about spelling and how jealous they must be, because they don’t have one, but the truth of the matter is, I keep it because it reminds me that all it takes is one person, just one, to fan the flame and ignite a spark within a child. That old spelling bee trophy from 1980 sits proudly on my bookshelf reminding me to fan the flame of the students I encounter each and every day.
Tammy Allen is the principal at Dixon Elementary School.