An influence on Dionne Nelson's decision to study early childhood education came from a family friend in the profession.
Nelson, a kindergarten instructor at T.R. Simmons Elementary School who was recently named as the school's teacher of the year, said she decided to become a teacher after seeing firsthand how her friend was able to nurture the children in her classroom.
For the last 19 years, Nelson has been nurturing youngsters who attend Jasper City Schools. She spent 12 years teaching at West Jasper Elementary School before transferring to T.R. Simmons eight years ago.
Nelson, who earned her bachelor's degree at Alabama A&M University and got her master's degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said she believes she is setting the stage for her students' future academic and professional careers.
"I think if you lay a good foundation for children while they're young, they'll carry that with them for the rest of their lives," said Nelson, who was born and raised in Jasper.
Nelson said it has been a privilege to teach at T.R. Simmons where she was once a student.
"I got to see a lot of teachers who taught me," said Nelson, adding that she visits other former teachers during a luncheon regularly held for the school's retired educators.
Nelson said two Jasper City Schools teachers who had a major influence on her were Brenda Donaldson, her first-grade teacher, and Loretta McCants, Nelson's mentor when she first started teaching at West Jasper.
Nelson said if she was counseling a new teacher today, she would tell them to work hard to remain positive and meet the "various needs" of children from "various backgrounds."
Despite Nelson's experience, she said she was surprised to hear her name called during a recent faculty meeting attended by Jasper City Schools superintendent Robert Sparkman and assistant superintendent Jean Lollar.
Nelson was chosen for the honor by a committee made of up fellow teachers, administrators, parents and other school shareholders.
She and other schools' teachers of the year will be honored during the school board's January meeting. A profile photograph of each teacher of the year will be displayed for the next year in the meeting room at Jasper City School's central office where the Jasper City Board of Education holds its monthly meetings.
Other teachers of the year were Teresa Kitchens, Walker High School; Brenda Stepp, Maddox Middle School; Meagan Fields, Memorial Park Elementary School; and Melanie Turner, West Jasper Elementary School.
"We've got some goods ones," Sparkman said about the school system's teachers of the year. "These are all sound, strong teachers."
Suzanne Snow, the principal at T.R. Simmons, said Nelson is "an exemplary teacher who always puts her students first."