Shawnee Middle School's own Theresa Barkhimer has spent the last several days in Los Cabos, Mexico, where she attended the National LifeChanger of the Year Awards Ceremony Tuesday. Barkhimer received a $2,500 personal cash reward and a $2,500 donation to her school for being a national top-five finalist.

Shawnee Middle School's own Theresa Barkhimer has spent the last several days in Los Cabos, Mexico, where she attended the National LifeChanger of the Year Awards Ceremony Tuesday.

Barkhimer received a $2,500 personal cash reward and a $2,500 donation to her school for being a national top-five finalist.

It started in February when Barkhimer, a social worker at Shawnee Middle School, found out during a surprise pep assembly that she was named a 2015-2016 LifeChanger of the Year award winner.

Barkhimer was selected as a LifeChanger of the Year winner out of more than 620 teachers, administrators and school district employees nominated for the award from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

She was nominated by Shawnee Middle School Principal Colby Cagle.

Representing Shawnee

At the assembly, state Rep. Justin Wood, said, "It was a privilege to honor Mrs. Barkhimer along with members of her family and the great students of the Shawnee Middle School.”

He said Barkhimer has made such a positive impact in our community. “Each and every person is better for knowing her,” he said. “I can only hope to leave as long-lasting a legacy as she."

On the Shawnee Public Schools website, shawnee.k12.ok.us, it reads, “Barkhimer is a proven leader and advocate for underprivileged students and families within the community. She is known as a community outreach and leadership specialist throughout the district. The programs she has implemented and maintained have touched the lives of many students and families.”

What Barkhimer does

Barkhimer partners with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to maintain a food pantry at Shawnee Middle School that serves Shawnee Middle School and two other schools in the district.

Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Marc Moore said her work in developing and continually maintaining the school pantry ensures that many chronically hungry students get food for after school and on weekends.

This labor-intensive project requires many hours of hard work and an army of volunteers to manage, the school website reads, “Barkhimer does this with such poise and grace that within a year her pantry went from serving nine students per week to more than 120. She also works with area groups to provide about 75 Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and, in collaboration with the City of Shawnee, delivers Christmas gifts to families in need.”

Barkhimer works with multiple churches, area businesses and large factory corporations to provide food, clothing and assistance to the students. She also collaborates with other teachers to develop lessons that create a more positive atmosphere for the students, the site states.

“Theresa makes a positive difference in the lives of many Shawnee Middle School students every day, and I am delighted that she is being recognized as a national finalist,” Moore said.

About the program

LifeChanger of the Year is a national program that annually recognizes and rewards K-12 educators andemployees who are making a significant difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Each school year, the program receives hundreds of nominations. Fifteen winners are chosen by the selection committee to receive cash awards that are split between the individual winner and their school.

Nominees must be full-time school or school district employees. Award winners are selected based on the following criteria:

• A proven ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students

• An ability to positively add to the development of the school and/or district’s atmosphere

• A leader in his or her activities at the school and/or district level

• A proven record of excellent performance at the professional level

• A commitment to producing a nurturing atmosphere

• Adherence to high moral and ethical standards

South Dakota educator Shane Thill, director of Second Chance High School and assistant principal at Mitchell High School, was named the grand prize winner. The other top finalists were: teacher Marla Cosner, in Ridgecrest, California; teacher Dennis Kass, of Chicago, Illinois; and teacher Amanda Reyes, from Georgetown, Texas.

Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.