State educators, health experts recognized for work during pandemic

PREPS recognizes those who guided schools during pandemic as teachers prepare for vaccine

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The Program of Research and Evaluation for Public Schools is recognizing educators and health experts that kept students learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers received the Partnership Award for their hard work helping guide Mississippi school districts through the pandemic.

PREPS is also recognizing all teachers and school support staff in Mississippi with the Courage Award for their dedication to the classroom during the crisis.

The recognition comes just days after it was announced that Mississippi teachers will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 1.

“Hopefully, we’ll see low numbers and ongoing declines,” Dobbs said.

“You know, COVID is still out there. I mean there’s still a lot of cases. It’s not like it’s gone anywhere, and if we don’t maintain those preventive measures, you know, just masking in public and avoiding social gatherings. If we can do that, I think we will continue to do well,“ Dobbs added.

Benjamin Austin, a Petal teacher named Mississippi Teacher of the Year, shared why he will be getting a shot come March 1.

I want to always create an environment that is safe for my students,” Austin said. “An environment that not only I feel safe, but my students feel safe as well. Whatever measures I need to take to be able to provide that safety and my peace of mind for not only myself but education as a whole or for the community, I will take.”

Kayla Sharp, a Laurel School District nurse, shared the reactions many teachers in the district have had with March 1 approaching.

“For the teachers here it’s just a sense of peace,” Sharp said. “I mean they have been waiting and waiting and hoping that we would be next on the list. Also, we want our parents to know that this is a safe place for their kids to come.”

Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley was also awarded the Research Award from PREPS.

The PREPS conference will be held virtually on March 5.

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