DUNN — At Midway Middle School, teacher Leasa Hodges continues to work towards her vision of an outside classroom in a garden.
With the first of three phases completed, she hopes it’s ready before school starts. It has magnolia trees, flower plants and bushes.
“It’s the type of garden that attracts birds, butterflies and humming birds,” Hodges said about providing a peaceful, inspirational area where students can read, write or work on art pieces.
Her dedication to education was one of many reasons she was honored as a top educator in Sampson County Schools. Hodges was a candidate for the district’s Teacher of the Year, along with Ebonique Ingram of Hobbton Middle School and winner Brent Rivenbark of Hobbton Elementary School.
“In an honor,” Hodges said about being selected as one of the top three educators in the district. “It’s humbling because there’s a lot of good teachers. It’s nice to be recognized when you put your hear into something and truly want to make a difference.”
She teaches earth and environmental science, biotechnology, agriculture and serves as the school’s FFA adviser. The journey at Midway Middle began in 2001 after working in the production manager program with Murphy Farms. Hodges managed a sow farm and worked as a production trainer.
Next, she worked at North Carolina Cooperative Extension as an livestock agent for Cumberland and Harnett counties. During her two-year tenure, she had an opportunity to participate adult education program.
Teaching is something she enjoyed, so she decided to educate middle school students in Sampson County. It was a challenge transition from adults to students. But she overcame it.
“I enjoy making connections with the students and helping them realize there potential and helping them to recognize the various opportunities available for them,” Hodges said.
Helping students reach their full potential comes with challenges. For Hodges, one of the issues is the emphasis placed on End-of-Grade (EOG) test scores and results.
“With a focus like that, I see a lot of my co-workers getting very discouraged,” she said listing language arts and math teachers as an example. “This type of environment is not fair to the teachers and it’s definitely not fair to the students. Right now, the importance is on the numbers teachers and children produce.”
As an educator, she believes there’s a lot more to education besides test outcomes.
“We as educators need to focus on the holistic child, not just the math and language arts component,” Hodges said. “You can excel in other areas and still be successful.”
In her classes, Hodges indicated that she introduces students to different areas, so they will not be discouraged by test scores.
“That’s not how true success is majored,” the agriculture educator said.
Hodges’s love of farming began many years ago. She grew on a beef and dairy farm in Mountain Grove, Mo. and after graduating from high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Missouri State University. Hodges also has a teaching license in middle school science from Fayetteville State University and a master’s in agricultural education from North Carolina State University.
Her husband is Johnny Hodges and they’ve been married for 22 years. Together, they have twins, Rachel and John. Both are juniors at Midway High School. The family operates cattle and hogs on a beef farm and contracts with Murphy Brown.
Hodges has accomplished a lot during her teaching career, but she humbly gave credit to educators and programs such as Simple Gifts, a program which funds learning opportunities beyond the classroom.
Last year, she was selected to participate in the Educator of Excellence Institute, which came with a trip to Yellowstone National Park. The trip and the garden was made possible through the local Simple Gifts.
“It’s so nice when there’s an organization out there that supports educators,” she said. “Because of that support, it allows me to be creative. Without their help, I couldn’t do the things I’m doing at Midway Middle. It has impacted the way I teach and as a result, it has impacted the lives of my students.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.