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Inaugural award to be presented to Stewart County teacher May 5

She had a profound influence over my life, especially in high school. She taught us to believe in ourselves and we could do anything.

Those comments came from Austin Peay State University senior April Cheatham, Dover, in her nomination of Connie Baggett, Stewart County High School instructor of business and information technology, for APSUs first Distinguished High School Teacher Award.

Thanks to Cheatham, Baggett will become the first recipient of the newly established awardthe only one of its kind among Tennessee colleges and universities.
“She had a profound influence over my life, especially in high school. She taught us to believe in ourselves and we could do anything.”

Those comments came from Austin Peay State University senior April Cheatham, Dover, in her nomination of Connie Baggett, Stewart County High School instructor of business and information technology, for APSU's first Distinguished High School Teacher Award.

Thanks to Cheatham, Baggett will become the first recipient of the newly established awardthe only one of its kind among Tennessee colleges and universities.

The APSU Distinguished High School Teacher Award, to be presented annually, enables each APSU senior to nominate one high school teacher who made a significant difference in his/her life. Nominations were accepted Nov. 1-Dec. 1, 2005, after which a committee reviewed them, contacted the nominees' principals for input and, ultimately, selected Baggett.

APSU President Dr. Sherry Hoppe will pay tribute to Baggett and present her a $1,000 check May 5 during an invitation-only Commencement luncheon, which Cheatham also will attend. Later that day, Hoppe will recognize Baggett during Commencement exercises.

“I was a very shy freshman when I first met (Mrs. Baggett),” said Cheatham. “She took the time to learn about the things I liked to do, and she encouraged me to compete in a keyboarding contest through BPA (Business Professionals of America).

“I didand I went all the way to state competition. I would have never done that had she not taken the time to show me some attention when no one else did.”

By Cheatham's senior year in high school, she was a BPA officer and was competing in many business contests, ultimately winning seventh place in a national competition.

Baggett, the first recipient of the Distinguished High School Teacher Award, graduated from APSU in 1981 with a Bachelor of Business Administration and 8-12 certification. In 1998, she received a master's degree in education with a concentration in business from APSU, as well as earning a Career Level III Tennessee Teaching Certification.

Her outstanding record as a teacher already has been recognized publicly. In 2003, after nominations by her peers, Baggett received the Channel 4 Apple of the Teacher Award. In 2004, through nominations from her students, she received the Fox 17 Top Teacher Award.

Besides teaching, Baggett has been a state BPA officer since 1998, serving in such posts as president and webmaster. She has been the school's BPS adviser since 1991, taking students to regional, state and national competitions yearly. Since 1995, she has taken more than 150 students to national BPS conferences, including 22 who went to Anaheim, Calif., last year.
Preparing students for competitions is a year-round commitment, according to Baggett. By September, students preparing for competitions begin coming to school early and staying late to practice. All of these early morning and late afternoon sessions are under Baggett's direction.

According to Stewart County High School Principal Chris Guynn, Baggett's instruction is “flawless and cutting edge.” She not only stays up to date in the latest technology and teaching methodology, she also incorporates real-world problems and solutions into every lesson.

Guynn says Baggett encourages her students to learn by doing. In 1998, Baggett's students opened a school store to sell school supplies and food items. In Spring 2001, the store, which was renamed Rebels and Rhinestones, was expanded to sell fashion handbags and jewelry. Each school year a store manager is named, and the BPA officers are responsible for working in the store from 7:10 a.m., 2:45 p.m., Monday-Friday.

In the summer, Baggett takes the manager and key BPA officers to market in Atlanta, where they spend a couple of days getting ideas of what will be popular items for the next season and making purchases for the store. Baggett said, “Students get real experiences in marketing, advertising and purchasing…(and) the store now generates more than $10,000 in fundraising revenue each year.”

In addition to her work with BPA, Baggett is involved in other activities, including her service as a member of the Stewart County Education Association Negotiation Team during 2002-06. She also has served 18 years as Stewart County Education Association secretary.

Despite her demanding teaching duties, the long hours she puts in as BPS adviser and her involvement in myriad extracurricular activities, Baggett continues to make each student her No. 1 priority. She said, “I encourage my students to e-mail me the first day of class and tell me about their lives and interests. And I reciprocate by making a presentation about my hobbies and interests. One-on-one interaction with students, either face-to-face or by e-mail, is extraordinarily revealing and helpful in the design of projects assigned during the course.”

Baggett says she realizes she is a role model for her students. “I model good work ethics and exemplary attendance,” she says. “These are as important for the growth and … preparation of the student as their class work.”

Hoppe, who initiated the APSU Distinguished High School Teacher Award, said, “So often, we hear our students talk about a particular high school teacher who influenced their lives profoundly. Some say, ‘I would not be at Austin Peay had it not been for that teacher. I just wish I could pay him or her back.'

“Through this award, April Cheatham has been able to express her appreciationin a tangible mannerto her friend and mentor, Connie Baggett.

“Austin Peay began as a teachers collegeand, as a result, this whole area, this state, has some of the nation's best teachers, manyperhaps mostof whom are Austin Peay alumni, like Mrs. Baggett. We are delighted to honor her with this first award.”

For more information about the award, contact Carol Clark, executive assistant to the president, by telephone at (931) 221-7570 or by e-mail at clarkc@apsu.edu. — Dennie B. Burke