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CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR FINALIST PROFILE: Instructional Assistant Guides Gadsden Students on Their Journey to Becoming Successful Readers

Whitney CobbSome 22 miles from the heart of Richland One’s attendance zone sits the small, rural Gadsden Elementary School, which houses 146 students in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade.

Within its walls is a classroom that the school’s 2022-2023 Classified Employee of the Year, Whitney Cobb, shares with reading interventionist Tania Toomer. Cobb has served as an instructional assistant to Toomer for three of the nine years she’s worked for Richland One. Her responsibilities include helping students develop reading skills such as letter-naming, initial sounds and comprehension, through working with them one-on-one or as a group for students in grades 1-5.

Gadsden Elementary Principal David Thorpe said Cobb is determined to ensure the students are successful in reading.

“Her influence and teaching style with pulling groups has allowed students to show major growth in the area of reading,” said Thorpe. “Students are placed in her reading groups below grade level and, with her help, these students have made five or more months (of) growth. She has proven that students are a top priority.”

Hawkins is one of six school-level Classified Employees of the Year who are in the running for the district-level distinction.

Gadsden third-grade teacher Sharon Smith calls Cobb an outstanding employee who is committed, flexible and professional.

“On a daily basis, she goes above and beyond to support not just the students she serves, but also the administrative team, teachers and other classified staff members in any capacity needed,” said Smith. “She is very knowledgeable in providing interventions and supporting students in their reading journey.”

The “reading journey” is a phrase coined by Cobb to describe her teaching method.

“We explore words, sounds and stories,” she said. “We adventure to make meaning of all types of genres.”

The aim, Cobb said, is to ensure students are equipped with the skills necessary to become successful and confident readers. Through experience, Cobb said she has learned that if she can motivate students to pick up a book, read it, discuss it and enjoy it, then the journey of empowerment has begun.

The new Richland One Classified Employee of the Year will be announced May 27 during the district’s Celebration 2022 employee recognition event.