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An exceptional educator: Brickhouse named county Teacher of the Year

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Julie Brickhouse smiles as she sits down in the new Audi that she will drive for a year for winning the Teacher of the Year award. The vehicle was donated by Brian Pecheles Wednesday, March 14, 2018.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Many of Julie Brickhouse's students cannot put into words what makes her a good teacher.

Children in her classroom at Wahl-Coates Elementary School of the Arts have severe and profound intellectual disabilities. But Brickhouse's nearly 30-year career in exceptional education speaks for itself.

The 2011 North Carolina Exceptional Children's Teacher of the Year, Brickhouse was named Wednesday as Pitt County Schools Teacher of the Year. At the annual awards luncheon, held at Rock Springs Center and presented by Farm Bureau and Pitt County Schools, E.B. Aycock Middle School teacher Kelby Thorndyke was named runner-up.

Both Brickhouse and Thorndyke are graduates of East Carolina University.

Brickhouse, a Charlotte native, has spent 25 years of her career with Pitt County Schools and is a former teacher of the year at Eastern Elementary School.

Marty Baker, principal at Wahl-Coates, where Brickhouse has taught for two years, described the veteran educator as a passionate teacher who treats students as if they were her children.

“She does not let any limitation stand in the way of any child learning and/or communicating,” he said. “She plans individual lessons for every single student that she has. … She has a gift.”

Other Teacher of the Year finalists were: Ainsley Harris of Belvoir Elementary, Sarah Ruddock of Creekside Elementary, Laurel Currie of Pitt County Early College High and Kelsey Phillips of Sam D. Bundy Elementary.

A video highlighting the six nominees featured students from each teacher's classroom explaining what made their teacher exceptional. When asked what goals her teacher had helped her to achieve, a student in Brickhouse's classroom pointed to a card that read “communication.”

In her acceptance speech, Brickhouse, who has a master’s degree and also is certified to work with deaf-blind children, said, “everybody has the right to communicate.”

“Many times, people see a child in a wheelchair or a child who cannot speak and will assume they cannot learn or have an opinion about a variety of topics,” Brickhouse wrote in expressing her teaching philosophy. “Students with disabilities may have multiple physical issues that prevent them from verbalizing words, but it's my job as a teacher to find the most successful way of communication for all of my students.”

Thorndyke, who has been a teacher for 16 years, said he came to the profession reluctantly. The son of educators, the Lumberton native originally considered careers in banking or writing. But serving as an assistant in a physical education class make him realize “teaching wasn't a career to dislike but one to admire and cherish.”

Wy’khera Spruill, a student at Aycock, where Thorndyke teaches eighth-grade language arts, described him as an innovative teacher.

“Mr. Thorndyke makes everybody feel like a part of the classroom,” she said via video. “He likes to listen, and I think that's really important.... He tries to make class really fun.”

As Teacher of the Year, Brickhouse received an Audi A3 to drive for a year, courtesy of Pecheles Automotive, along with gifts from Farm Bureau, Pitt County Educational Foundation and other sponsors. She will go on to represent the county in regional competition.

Also at Wednesday's event, the school district recognized classified employee of the year award winners. They are: Child Nutrition Manager of the Year, Mary Goddard, Sadie Saulter Educational Center; Child Nutrition Employee of the Year, Faith Gurganus, C.M. Eppes Middle; Transportation Employee of the Year, Larry Stokes Sr., transportation department; Bus Driver of the Year, Randy Foskey, Belvoir Elementary; K-8 Bus Driver of the Year, Elizabeth Croom-Moore, Eastern Elementary; 9-12 Bus Driver of the Year, Richard Mercer, Farmville Central High; Custodian of the Year, Roscoe Backman Jr., Hope Middle; Office Employee of the Year, Lori Coleman, W.H. Robinson Elementary; Teacher Assistant of the Year, Monica Dupree, H.B. Sugg Elementary.