Three Seymour educators earned recognition Wednesday for not just teaching, but for having a significant and lasting affect on the lives of their students.
The three recipients of this year’s Teacher of the Year award from the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce are Laura Burbrink, Summer Schleibaum and Jeanna Eppley.
Awards were presented during the chamber’s 85th annual dinner at Celebrations.
Other winners were Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way, who received the Rising Star Award; The Carpet Gallery, Small Business of the Year; Royalty Companies of Indiana Inc., Corporate Citizen of the Year; and Rexanne Ude, executive director of Schneck Foundation, who was honored with the Citizenship Award.
For the second year in a row, the chamber chose to honor three teachers — one from the elementary school level, one from Seymour Middle School and one from Seymour High School.
Those receiving the award are nominated by their fellow teachers, former students and the community. A chamber committee then selects the winners from the nominations.
Burbrink, a second-grade teacher at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, said she was humbled and a little embarrassed she was chosen.
“There are so many other teachers who deserve the recognition,” she said.
With 32 years in the classroom, Burbrink is the most experienced of this year’s recipients. She began teaching for Seymour Community Schools in 1984.
“I was fresh out of college and had done my student teaching at Jackson Elementary,” she said. “Fortunately, they needed a first-grade teacher, and I got the job.”
After teaching at Jackson for three years, she was asked to transfer to Seymour-Redding, where there was a need for a fifth-grade teacher. But after a couple of years, she decided she wanted to work with younger students.
“I requested a second-grade position when it opened and have been with second-graders ever since,” she said. “This is where my heart is.”
Burbrink didn’t have far to look to find inspiration for a career in education. Her mother was a Seymour Community Schools teacher for more than 30 years, too.
“I always heard amazing things about her as a teacher, and I aspired to be like her,” Burbrink said. “I wish she were here now to see me as a teacher.”
Burbrink’s daughter is following in their footsteps, too. She also is a teacher for Seymour Community Schools.
Besides her mother, Burbrink said she owes a lot of gratitude to those who have supported her in her career, including former Jackson Principal Dave Thompson, who helped her get her first job, and current Redding Principal Dylan Purlee for constantly pushing her to be better.
She also thanked all of her fellow teachers and staff she has worked with over the years.
“We work as a team, share ideas and support one another,” she said. “From the secretaries, counselor, janitors, cooks and instructional aides, they are all wonderful.”
Due to the increased demands on educators today, Burbrink said she spends more time than ever working.
“I have to give credit to my husband, who is very patient when I need to spend extra hours at school,” she said. “This job does require more time than it did many years ago.”
But without students, a teacher has no meaning or purpose, she said.
“I love seeing the growth children make each year and knowing that in some way I have helped them,” she said. “The children who I strive to inspire each day are the ones who end up inspiring me.”
Seymour High School agriculture teacher Jeanna Eppley said she’s used to seeing her students and the school’s FFA chapter receive awards for their work.
But being honored as Teacher of the Year is a completely different kind of experience, she said.
“It’s easy to be excited for them but a whole different ballgame for me,” she said. “It is very humbling.”
She also has been named Indiana Association of Agriculture Educators’ Outstanding Young Teacher and IAAE Outstanding Educator.
Eppley is currently in her 10th year of teaching, with the past three years at Seymour. Before that, she spent six years at Southmont High School in Crawfordsville and a year at Mount Vernon in Fortville.
She credits much of her own success to her former high school ag teacher and FFA adviser, Blake Hackman, at Brownstown Central High School and her mentor, Jim Stephenson, retired Seymour High School ag teacher and FFA adviser.
“Mr. Hackman had fun every day and will still today claim he gets paid to do what he loves,” she said. “Mr. Stephenson allowed me to student teach with him, which was such an uplifting experience and why I chose to teach at the high school.”
Eppley took over for Stephenson after he retired in 2013.
Being able to share the importance of agriculture with her students, especially through FFA, is more than just a job, it’s her calling and what she is most passionate about, she said.
“I love FFA and all the opportunities we get to offer the students, from leadership development and scholarships to trips across the state and opportunities to develop friendships that will last a lifetime,” she said.
Through FFA, Eppley also stresses the importance of community service to students.
“It allows us to get out in the community and live to serve others,” she said.
Her interest in agriculture can be traced back to growing up on a farm with her parents, Joe and Karen VonDielingen, and her brother, Grant.
“They were always there to help me out,” she said. “Dad taught me the ways on the farm. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their love, guidance and support.”
She also is grateful for the support of her husband, Tony.
“He has to deal with a schedule like no other, with all the FFA activities, farm work, taking care of the cattle and meetings,” she said.
Although she is charged with teaching others, Eppley said it’s her love of learning and professional development that makes her a successful teacher.
Seymour’s ag program is currently seeing a lot of growth and attention as the corporation embarks on a project to create an agricultural research farm and education center in Freeman Field. It’s a project Eppley and Superintendent Rob Hooker proposed a year ago.
“It is so amazing to work in a progressive school corporation so eager to advance the schools in any way possible,” she said. “I am so excited to see what my next 20 years will bring at Seymour.”
Seymour Middle School eighth-grade math teacher Summer Schleibaum also is in the 10th year of her career, which started in 2006 right where she is today.
A simple equation is what led to her decision to become an educator.
“I have always had a love for math and for being around kids, so I put them together,” she said.
Without the support of her coworkers, Schleibaum said she wouldn’t be the kind of teacher she is today.
“They are the ones that have helped me grow in my profession and helped me become who I am in the classroom,” she said.
She credits two of her own teachers in Scottsburg for inspiring her to go into the field of education — Kathy Gilland and Matt McGlothin — and her parents, husband and children for continuing to support that decision.
One of the hardest lessons Schleibaum said she has had to learn is that she can’t change every student’s life, but that’s no excuse for not trying.
“I can try over and over until they know that I care,” she said.
When it comes to teaching, she enjoys the challenges she faces in the classroom and the ability to begin each day anew.
“Every day is a new adventure and a fresh start,” she said.
Being named Teacher of the Year is a big deal, and Schleibaum said it’s an honor she will hold herself up to throughout her career.
“I would like to think that I have good integrity, and I work hard to make a difference in my students’ education,” she said.
Award winners at the 85th annual Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce dinner
Educators of the Year: Laura Burbrink, second-grade teacher at Seymour-Redding Elementary School; Summer Schleibaum, math teacher at Seymour Middle School; Jeanna Eppley, agriculture teacher at Seymour High School
Rising Star Award: Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way
Small Business of the Year: The Carpet Gallery
Corporate Citizen of the Year: Royalty Companies of Indiana Inc.
Citizenship Award: Rexanne Ude, executive director of Schneck Foundation