Betsy Jordan's fifth-grade students at Fox Road Elementary School in Raleigh have lived this school year on the theme that they will rise up and accomplish whatever they set their minds on.
Using Andra Day's song "Rise Up" as their class anthem, the 24 students in Jordan's class recite a daily pledge that they will rise up as a family and be voracious learners who will defeat bullying by being kind and empathetic to others.
That kind of relationship-building was recognized on Thursday when Jordan was named the Wake County school system's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.
"The reason why I have this honor is because of you 24," Jordan told her students Friday after they returned from a school-wide assembly to honor her. "You guys not only rise up, but you allow me to rise up every single day.
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"So I just want to thank you so much for your love and support because I would not be where I am without all of you.”
Building strong relationships with her students is something that Jordan, 28, said she learned from forming close relationships with her teachers. It's something that's been essential for Jordan during her four years at Fox Road.
Located near Triangle Town Center shopping mall in North Raleigh, Fox Road's 475 students are made up of families from more than 50 different countries that speak about 35 different native languages. More than half of the students are native Spanish speakers.
Nearly four out of five students qualify for subsidized lunches because of their family's low income, and 25 percent of the school's students have limited English skills.
A repeated message that Jordan and others at the school have shared with the students is to reach for their full potential.
“It (Teacher of the Year award) represents all 475 of you beautiful, intelligent Fox Road students that have everything in the world to live for because every single teacher and every single staff member at this school believes in you," Jordan said during the school assembly. "I want you all to believe in yourself."
Jordan's speech to the students Friday mirrored the speech that she gave Thursday night at the awards ceremony. Robert Lewis, principal of Fox Road, was impressed by how Jordan didn't use the word "I" in her acceptance speech.
“She talked about us," Lewis told the students. "She talked about Fox Road. She talked about her team — all of the collaboration that goes on in our school and all of the things that we believe are important.”
Jordan said that she knew "Rise Up" would be the perfect way to help her collaborate with her students this school year.
“I knew I wanted to utilize that song because I have a lot of students who come from brokenness and they need to know that no matter what, they truly can move mountains and rise up," Jordan said.
After playing the song and reading the lyrics at the start of the school year, Jordan asked her students to write down everything that was "breaking them down, and making it hard to breathe." Then she had them rip up the paper and write down all the reasons they "rise up."
Jordan said students wrote down things like "friends, family, sports, singing, their coach and Mrs. Jordan." The students have kept it up by reciting the daily pledge and listing things that they will rise up for that day.
"We encourage each other and hold one another accountable and anytime someone is going negative or down or defeated, we encourage one another to rise up," Jordan said. "It’s become part of who we are as a family.”
As Wake's new Teacher of the Year, Jordan said she intends to promote the values of equity and empathy. As a person who believes strongly in equity and justice, Jordan said she will be among the thousands of teachers who will be in Raleigh on Wednesday lobbying state lawmakers over public education.
“I admire anyone who is going to advocate for justice and share their voice," Jordan said in an interview. "I plan to fight for justice that day.”