The Hendry County School District’s Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, Aarika Deerey, admits that school was always a challenge for her. “But I had many people by my side to help me succeed,” she says. Her family moved to LaBelle, from Louisiana, when she was in fourth grade. “My fourth-grade teacher played a huge role in helping me adjust to being in a new school, town, and state. This was the year my family moved to LaBelle. My fourth-grade year was a hard year but she helped me feel very welcomed and work through the big change.” Aarika has now lived here for 23 years. Frank and Cathy Deerey, Aarika’s parents, were both teachers and are her biggest inspiration behind becoming the amazing teacher she is today. “What I love so much about both of them is their LOVE and PASSION for what they do,” she proudly stated. “They put God before everything. And this has set a huge example in my life.”
Aarika Deerey attended the Baptist College of Florida and majored in Elementary Education and Missions, graduating in 2012. After graduating. she spent her first two years at Central Elementary School in Clewiston, and currently teaches Pre-K at Upthegrove Elementary School, where she has taught for the past five years. I asked Aarika what she loved most about teaching. She had this to say, “I love seeing my babies learn something for the first time. They get so excited and proud of themselves. More than anything I want them to believe in themselves.”
When asked what her favorite school activity was, she replied, “I love doing science with my students! They love to be scientists and to learn how different things work. I love seeing then discover new things through science. One of my favorite science projects I love to do with my students is Easter Egg Rockets.” What’s a typical day in her classroom like? “In my class, we like to learn through play. We have morning circle time that is interactive. They sing, dance, read stories, count, and much more! We then go into morning centers. These centers include technology, hands-on activities, dramatic play, and small group time. After some recess play time, lunch and quick rest time we do the same thing in the afternoon with different activities.”
I then asked Aarika Deery if she had a personal philosophy about teaching. Her response was, “I believe that all students that step into a classroom deserve to know that they are smart, safe and loved. These three concepts will help all children learn to believe in themselves more each day and know they can accomplish whatever they want to accomplish in that day as well as in their lives. They should be able to feel safe and loved enough to express themselves and learn in ways they know best. This will enable them to be successful in school and in life. I believe it’s my responsibility as a teacher to make sure my students always feel smart enough to know success even when they make mistakes since experience is one of the greatest teachers. They must also know and feel safe. This helps them to have open minds to learn new things and try new things confidently. Finally, and perhaps the most important, I want them to know that they are loved and when they make those mistakes that they are going to make – it’s okay, and each day will begin with a fresh clean slate. When students feel smart, safe, and loved, they will take pride in working together to learn and become a team where they recognize that we are all teachers as well as learners.”
When looking towards the future, Aarika says she sees herself as a teacher, indefinitely, because she loves it so much. She would like to teach abroad, to underprivileged children. A few years back, she taught alongside other teachers in Africa and absolutely loved the experience and would love to go back someday.
For anyone who is thinking of becoming a teacher, she offered this advice, “I would tell them to go into it with their whole heart! Somedays are very hard but it is also very life changing. Seeing children grow is very rewarding and life changing!”
She wanted to make sure to give a big thank you to her beloved Upthegrove Elementary School, “and all the admin, faculty, staff, and students for investing in me, believing in me, helping me learn and pushing me to be better on a daily basis. Each and every one of you are amazing and I could not have achieved this Honor without you! I’m blessed to have a wonderful school family,” and thank YOU, Aarika Deerey, for being such an awesome teacher!