LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. — During one of the most challenging years for teachers, a high school biology teacher in Lee's Summit is excelling.
In January, Lauren Kennedy, who teaches at Lee's Summit North High School, learned she is a recipient of the Missouri Outstanding Beginning Teacher Award.
"I was ecstatic, I did not expect to get it," Kennedy said. "I was shocked and so surprised."
The Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education presents the award, for which nominations are accepted every two years.
Her alma mater, Missouri Southern State University, and the Lee's Summit School District nominated Kennedy for her exemplary work during her first year.
Kennedy switched her major to education during her sophomore year at MSSU after co-teaching a class of college freshmen.
"It has been the best decision I've ever made," Kennedy said. "I love what I do. It doesn't even feel like I work. I love my job."
During her first year, she's had to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, juggling virtual learning while trying to form relationships with her students.
Her hard work doesn't go unnoticed. Students like Matthew Allen want to be in class when she's teaching.
"I don't think I've ever had a boring day in her class because she always puts in the extra effort to make class worth going to," Allen said.
Allen said Kennedy deserves the recognition because she goes the extra mile to support her students.
"She's a very caring teacher," Allen said. "If you say something to her then you know she's listening, and if ever you need to reach out to her for anything she's always there."
Allen's mom, Vanessa, said she appreciates Kennedy's dedication and positive attitude.
"She's been very adaptive to just going with the flow and not being negative about it with the kids," Vanessa said. "She's just been like, 'OK, now we're going to do this.'"
Kennedy's students have been through virtual, hybrid and in-person learning during the pandemic. Vanessa said she appreciates Kennedy's effort to engage students and make learning enjoyable.
"You need to be in person for biology, but they just can't this year," Vanessa said, "but she's found a way to make it interesting and fun and enlightening and still learn what they need to learn."
Kennedy said she's grateful to the Lee's Summit School District and its students for making her first year teaching a memorable one.
"I have the best students I could ever have imagined teaching my first year," Kennedy said. "They're amazing."
Kennedy will be recognized for her achievement during a virtual ceremony in March.