Two teachers in the Coweta County School System have been named Veterans of Foreign Wars 2017 Teachers of the Year for the state of Georgia.
John Garner of Newnan High School and Samantha Clark of Arnall Middle School – both history teachers – were nominated for the VFW’s National Citizenship Education Teacher Award by fellow teachers. The two were awarded the honor locally by VFW Post 2667 in Newnan in February, and later won at the Georgia VFW 5th District level.
This week, both teachers were notified that they had won at the state level for the respective categories – Garner at the high school level and Clark at the middle school level. The two will serve as The Georgia VFW’s nominees for national Teachers of the Year this summer.
“It’s very exciting news,” said VFW Post 2667 Junior Vice Commander Thomas Fetchet. “This honor reflects well on our community, that we have such excellent teachers teaching our students. The courses they teach are patriotic in nature, and these individuals are well-deserving of these recognitions.”
Fetchet pointed out that the two teachers were chosen for their respective grade level awards from among the nominees of 104 VFW Posts in Georgia. Clark and Garner have been invited to the annual VFW convention in Macon this June to be recognized as state winners. National winners are selected in July.
The VFW award recognizes teachers at elementary, middle and high school levels each year for exemplary commitment to teaching American history, citizenship and patriotism to their students. Teachers whose curriculum focuses on citizenship education topics for at least half of the school day in a classroom environment can be nominated for the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award.
Garner was nominated for the honor by fellow Newnan High School teacher Sean Hage. Garner has started and runs National History Clubs for three different schools and communities since he first began teaching eight years ago, including clubs that have been voted National History Club Chapters of the year three times.
Garner has organized more than 70 field trips throughout the Southeast to bring history alive for his students, including visiting former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class to bringing in World War II veterans to speak to his United States History classes.
During his teaching tenure, Garner has organized Veterans Day programs, orchestrated a Freedom Rider lecture series at six Atlanta high schools discussing the Civil Rights era, orchestrated a Rock the Vote campaign registering students to vote, planned a thank-you dinner and ceremony for first responders, and organized a signing ceremony for students entering the armed forces after graduation.
Garner also co-chairs Civics Day at NHS, where the freshman class meets and engages in conversation with members of the military as well as state and local elected officials about their responsibilities.
Clark was nominated by fellow Arnall Middle School teacher Darby Jones. Clark has taught at both the high school and middle school level, and currently teaches eighth-grade social studies, Georgia history, and civics for high school credit.
During election years, students participate in a mock election to understand how the Electoral College and voting works, and Clark leads students in activities that include writing modern songs about the process of a bill becoming a law, a WebQuest looking at the process of becoming a citizen, mock citizenship tests, and creating an ABC book detailing the important parts of the U.S. Constitution.
As part of her students’ study on the Civil War, Clark collaborated with her colleagues to bring students to a special event about the Battle of Brown’s Mill at the Coweta County Fairgrounds, where students could explore Civil War medicine, music, food, communication using flags, and other exhibits.
For the past five years, Clark has led Arnall Middle School’s Veterans Day Program, which features both active and retired military dignitaries. She has helped sponsor activities such as raising money for Wreaths Across America, an organization which places Christmas wreaths on the graves of veterans.
Clark is a past Teacher of the Year, sponsor of the Academic Bowl Team and Junior Beta Club, whose members create hundreds of holiday cards for soldiers each year. She is chair of Arnall’s social studies department, which has had students from all three grade levels compete in the National Geographic Bee and National History Bee during her leadership.
Newnan’s VFW Post 2667 sponsors a number of awards recognizing local students and teachers each year, including the Teacher of the Year program, a Patriot’s Pen essay competition for middle schoolers, the Voice of Democracy video essay contest for high school students, and Junior ROTC and Scout of the Year awards.