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Never having received any notable award in her life, Carol Flannery said she was shocked to learn she was a recipient of the Murray Education Foundation's Pinnacle Awards.
"It was a big surprise," Flannery said. "My mouth was as wide open as it's ever been."
The Pinnacle Awards are given out to Murray City School District's educators, employees and volunteers who show excellence and dedication to education. The foundation selected six honorees this year.
Flannery has volunteered at Viewmont Elementary for seven years. In 2005, she retired from being a records clerk at the West Valley City Police Department.
"After I retired, I asked myself, 'What am I going to do with my life?' " Flannery said.
Although her professional career didn't really have to do with education, her role as a mother and grandmother afforded her the chance to instill a passion for reading in the next generation.
"My kids are great readers, and my grandsons are fantastic readers," Flannery said. "Every kid needs to have the best opportunity they can to be good readers."
About three months after retirement, Flannery contacted Viewmont Elementary and asked if anyone needed help. She chose the school because it's the closest one to her house.
Flannery works particularly with students who tested below reading level. Her goal is to read with them, correct their mistakes and help them learn words so they can improve test scores.
"Second- and third-graders are the best," she said. "They look at you with this wonderment, and they think you're so smart for knowing these words."
Flannery said she didn't know about the Pinnacle Awards, so when she walked into the classroom one day and there were several people from the district, she didn't have the slightest clue they were there to congratulate her.
"I saw all these adults standing in the class, and I thought, 'But I'm in the right place,' " she said.
Currently, Flannery works with 12 students. She goes there once a week for two hours. She said it's fun to interact with the kids.
"They're so sweet and nice when they come running up to you and hug you," Flannery said.
Seeing the success that the students make in reading really makes it rewarding for her.
"It makes you feel good, and it makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile," she said.
Michelle Miller is the third-grade teacher whose class Flannery has been volunteering in, starting last year.
"She has [volunteered] for many, many years without any fanfare," Miller said. "She's never been solicited or asked, but she just shows up, and that's when the true recognition comes in."
Miller said the kids enjoy spending time and learning with Flannery.
"She comes faithfully every single week," Miller said. "Our school and these kids at the school have benefited for many years from her and her contribution."
Debbie Parker, who tutors students in second through fourth grade, also is impressed with Flannery's commitment to help.
"For somebody not having any grandkids at the school, God bless her for being here," Parker said. "She just loves these kids … takes them under her wings and helps wherever she can help."
Parker said Flannery never calls in sick and misses the kids greatly when they graduate elementary.
"She has a hard time when they leave, the sixth-graders," Parker said. "She's wonderful, and she's always willing to come."
Flannery plans to continue volunteering at the school "as long as they'll have me." As a retiree and a widow, she said volunteering enhances her life, and she feels she's making a difference.
"I think it's great, especially for senior citizens," she said. "After you raised your family, and everybody's gone, it gives you a purpose in life."
The Pinnacle Award recipients receive $500, a statuette and gift basket. Flannery said she has innumerable free places to accommodate the trophy, and as for the gift basket, her daughter is ready to share the bounty.
The award recipients will be honored at the Pinnacle Awards Gala on March 28 at Murray High School.
Tenth annual Pinnacle Awards
Recognition of excellence in education in the Murray City School District
Honorees include four educators, one employee and one volunteer
Recipients receive $500 cash award, statuette and gift basket
Awards ceremony held Thursday, March 28, at Murray High School