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Central High School teacher Nicole Lemmon

A profile of Central High School media instructor Nicole Lemmon, whose media students have won numerous national awards in the past several years. KSMU's Randy Stewart reports for the "Sense of Community" series.

NICOLE LEMMON: This is my Advanced staff--a staff of 28. We produce about a 25-minute news show every two weeks. And it airs at Central High School, but it also airs on (Mediacom) Channel 25.So, we've gotta get it right! (chuckles) It's got to be good.(sound of students in background) I wanted to be a high school teacher.I thought I wanted to teach literature courses... now that I'm teaching media courses I can never imagine myself teaching literature courses! So I think the universe took care of me in that respect.I love the hands-on aspect of it; that's how I learned, that's what I love about teaching that way.(audio from her media class) Okay, here we go--three, two, one. (Student starts doing intro to news piece)

RANDY: Nicole Lemmon teaches media, English and film courses, as well as coaching the cheerleading squad, at Central High School in Springfield.Nicole doesn't look very much older than some of her students, and really, she isn't: she's been on the job eight years, and was hired when she was only 20.

NICOLE: I started out in the Media program at Hillcrest, and I was one of their main top reporters, went to Nationals, won lots of awards with them. So I got a good background that way. Everett Isaacs, the (then-)Principal here at Central, knew me from when he was at Hillcrest. So he called Drury and said, "I need a media teacher!" And that's how I ended up here.In college I actually studied English, writing, and secondary education.Then this job opened up in the Broadcast Media department.

RANDY: You can't even call it Nicole's first job out of college.

NICOLE: Actually, I wasn't even out of college yet--I hadn't student-taught yet. I literally just walked across the street from Drury, and really like it here, so it's been a good fit.

RANDY: A Springfield native, Nicole Lemmon attended Reed Middle School and Hillcrest High School.

NICOLE: I wasn't a wealthy person by any means. My family was a non-traditional family; I lived a lot with my grandparents. But the only place that I ever felt like, "this is home," was school. And I loved it. And I was surrounded by really supportive teachers--and at Reed Middle School especially. I remember one teacher in particular, just pinning me against the wall one day and saying, "You're way too smart to act like this! Get it together!"

RANDY: "You're a slacker!!"

NICOLE: Right! (laughs) And those two sentences completely changed my life. So from there I was lucky enough to go to Hillcrest where I had a lot of opportunities.And I got a full scholarship to Drury, and that was a blessing. Without that, there is no way I would be here.

RANDY: Do you remember the name of the teacher?

NICOLE: Yeah, Mr. Smith was his name. And we've kept in touch all these years. And when I spoke at my high-school graduation--I was a commencement speaker--he came and was there in the audience. I just remember him making a huge difference to me. You know, it's nice to know that as a teacher you can influence people like that.

RANDY: Being a positive, inspiring influence, and showing she cares, more than anything else are Nicole's defining philosophies as a teacher.

NICOLE: One of the things that they always tell me is that I treat them as if they're "real people," if you will. And I like to work with my students and be right there with them. I want to be supportive. And that's why I think that this has been a perfect fit for me--because I can be a mentor to them, but I can also guide them in a career path. I know what it was like to be a student!

RANDY: You have to have empathy for what they're going through.

NICOLE: Absolutely.Even though I've only been out of high school 10 years, I have no idea the struggles that they face--no idea.Totally different than 10 years ago. But I know that, whatever problem they think is so important right now, me saying, "Oh, it's just high school!" isn't going to help that! People ask me, when do you think--will you ever stop teaching? And I said, I'll stop teaching the day I can no longer remember how important these times are for kids.

RANDY: What do you hope to impart to the students each year?

NICOLE: I want them to know that hard work and high standards will pay off every time.If you set a standard for yourself, an expectation, you will meet it. When I came to Central High School, and I was in a bathroom that was flooding--you know, my first class was in a bathroom in the basement(!)--and I was supposed to make a show, I thought, "I've got to do the best I can." And I set a goal that by our second year, we would win an award. And we won our first national award our second year. So I tell the kids that: whatever we say we're going to do, we're going to do it. And we've now picked up 30 national awards in eight years--that's great! And that isn't me. That's me setting an expectation, and the kids doing it.

RANDY: Nicole Lemmon was nominated for this "Teachers Who Make a Difference" series by one of her former students, Nick Balla, who's now a media major here at Missouri State.

NICK BALLA: So she's had a really big influence on me, her program, with what I want to do with myself. And so she's really sparked some ambition in me.

NICOLE: When they turn to me and they say, "Ms.Lemmon, thank you for treating me like a person... thank you for instilling in me the idea that I can work hard, and I can have a high expectation, and I'm going to meet it"... that's really cool for me. My favorite part of my job is helping kids. My least favorite part is grading papers and going to meetings! (chuckles) I think in ten years I'll have a Ph.D. And if I'm still here, I'll be in this room--teaching the same kind of kid, with a new set of problems, but doing the same thing.

RANDY: Nicole Lemmon, the teacher who drives the media program at Central High School.