The Aiken County International Reading Association recently recognized two educators for their commitment to ensuring that children grow as readers.

Belinda Anthony, a Chukker Creek Elementary School fourth-grade teacher, was cited as the association’s Reading Teacher of the Year. The Administrator of the Year award went to Debra McCord, now in her third year as the Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School principal.

Amy Conkleton, Aiken High School’s media specialist and the association’s president, praised the educators for their work.

Also the current Chukker Creek Teacher of the Year, Anthony is completing her 29th year in the classroom. One of the teachers who inspired her to go into the field was the legendary Idella Bodie. The author of 26 books, Bodie was recognized in 2010 for her contributions in the S.C. Senate in a resolution by now-retired Aiken Sen. Greg Ryberg.

“She was one of my biggest fans,” Anthony said with pleasure. “She taught me in ninth and 10th grade, and when I started teaching she would come to my class to visit and that meant a lot.”

Anthony has taught fourth grade at Chukker Creek for the past 15 years. With reading getting far more direct instruction than in the past, she has two volunteers who assist her on selected school days. Anthony also provides her students with content-rich instruction that is data-driven.

Chukker Creek consistently has high academic performance overall. Some students do need additional help, Anthony said, and principal Amy Gregory strongly supports reading, with the teachers meeting regularly to see where they and their students are improving.

The new Common Core standards are more advanced and in-depth with writing and reading. The most challenging part, Anthony said, is getting students to edit and proofread their work and then rewrite it.

Twice this year, her students have taken the Measure of Academic Progress, a test on computer that predicts how the children will perform on the state standardized exams. Anthony has been delighted with a big improvement in their performance on MAP.

In 2005 she earned a master’s degree in divergent learning from Columbia College. That was just the right opportunity for Anthony, she said. She understands that children learn differently and have to have their needs met specifically for them.

When she began her career as a first-grade teacher at Merriwether Elementary School, the children would ask Anthony on the first day of class if she would teach them to read by that afternoon.

“They were so cute,” she said. “It’s still so great now whenever my kids get excited when they finish a book or connect a piece of literature or writing. I love my job.”

McCord, too, has had a love of reading throughout her career as a North Aiken Elementary School and North Augusta Middle school teacher. Previously an assistant principal sharing time between Gloverville and Jefferson elementary schools, McCord has master’s and educational specialist degrees from Augusta State University.

Reading is the background of everything the students have to do, she said. If educators can get students reading on grade level or above, that makes them more successful in all other areas.

“As I’ve moved into administration there have been more opportunities for research,” McCord said. “Where I am right now is educating and training my teachers in best practices and rigorous curriculum. I do model lessons for teachers instead of just telling them about it.”

With Common Core, she said, the students are expected to read at a higher level. The faculty is helping them move them to read on grade level. Oakwood-Windsor has one of the school district’s highest poverty level. Although the students are reading well by the higher grades, many students at the school are not exposed to reading opportunities at home.

“We’re building more reading time in the school day, incorporating it across subject areas,” McCord said. “We’re also getting books into homes as much as we can by putting more in our library to give parents more chances to check them out. We do have a good many parents taking advantage of that.”