December Make a Difference Award: ‘Mamaw Debbie’ at Northeast East Elementary

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HYMERA, Ind. (WTHI) – Educating children is a career path many people choose to take, but for one Wabash Valley woman it comes from the goodness of her heart.

Debbie Norris is better known as Mamaw Debbie to those at Hymera School, or Northeast East Elementary.

She’s made it her job to make sure these kids get some extra attention for their growing minds.

“What I do is I work with some of the kindergartners,” Mamaw Debbie said. “I help them with their sight words. I help them with their numbers.”

Through carefully thought-out lesson plans and fun games disguised as learning tools, Mamaw Debbie does it all just for the joy the kids bring her.

“I love to see the expressions on their faces when all of a sudden they can count from one to twenty or one to one hundred, or when they know their sight words and maybe they’ve had trouble with one word and all of a sudden a bell rings and they know that word,” Mamaw Debbie said.

Some of the kids Mamaw Debbie helps come from Tina Ficklin’s kindergarten class. Ficklin says the work Mamaw Debbie does supplements what kids might be missing out on in the classroom.

“She is that individual help that we can’t always gain in kindergarten,” Ficklin said. “Because there’s 25 of them and one of me. So Mamaw Debbie has the luxury of pulling one or two students out at a time.”

Ficklin says Mamaw Debbie is a tool they would really like to keep secret. And adds she’s able to help students who are on all different levels of their education.

“She helps one on one with not only the students that need that extra boost, but she also is able to work with my students that really are excelling,” Ficklin said. “And she’s able to challenge those children as well. And in fact, the children will say, when it is my turn with Mamaw Debbie?”

Mamaw Debbie has charts to keep track of the kids’ progress and gives out treats once they reach certain goals. Ficklin says she notices a difference in the kids from the time spent with one of their favorite people.

“I don’t know what we would do without her and we’re not going to find that out,” Ficklin said.

We should also mention Mamaw Debbie wasn’t ever a teacher and started this work on a volunteer basis after she retired. However, she does say she receives a special form of payment.

“Hugs,” Mamaw Debbie said. “Hugs, isn’t it girls. I get hugs.”

Hugs that make both the kids she helps and Mamaw Debbie happy. Mamaw Debbie also plans special holiday parties for the kids and invites classes over to her house to pick apples and have picnics.