ROBESON COUNTY, NC (WBTW) – It’s said a good teacher can inspire hope and instill a love of learning.
You could consider Dr. Sherry Park proof of that.
Her life’s calling started somewhat accidentally as a quiet sharecropper’s daughter in Dillon County.
“In school, I was very, very shy. I had very little self-confidence and I didn’t think I was smart,” she recalled. “I had a teacher who was very, very encouraging. In fifth grade, I was so shy they thought I was (to be put in) special ed, so I was placed in a special ed class.”
All it took, though, was one teacher to realize something was not right.
“That teacher worked with me. That teacher followed me, not just from her class, but she followed me to the next grade level and she kept checking on me to see how I was doing. I ended up moving from the special ed class to AIG class all because of a special teacher. If that teacher had not taken the time to realize, ‘You know, there’s something wrong here. There’s something missing. This child has been misplaced,’ I don’t know what would’ve happened to me,” Dr. Park said.
What happened, though — she grew up to nurture and inspire students in a classroom of her own. Dr. Park’s more than three-decades-long career has spanned from teaching life science, biology and chemistry to physics, physical science and serving as an assistant principal.
Today, she is the principal of South Robeson Intermediate School. She has received several awards and accolades throughout her career, including the Golden Apple Award, serving as an ambassador to South Africa as the Public Schools of Robeson County Teacher of the Year and was a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science finalist for the state of North Carolina.
“I think it’s so important for me to pay it forward – to do the same thing for other children that that teacher did for me,” Dr. Park said.
That’s what some say makes her a remarkable woman. Her giving heart, both inside and outside of the classroom, has helped dozens of students from getting left behind.
“I came in every Saturday from 8-10 when I was a high school teacher to help those students who were struggling. I came to make sure those students had that second opportunity,” she fondly remembered.
We learned through Dr. Park’s nomination that she has also personally paid for ACT and SAT tests for students who could not afford to. She’s even secured thousands in grants and private funding from community members to take students on “incentive trips.” Students who do well on academic benchmark testing earn a spot to visit Carowinds and attend Charlotte Hornets games for free.
Among the donors supporting Dr. Park’s efforts over the years is Steve Smith, a former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens player.
“Sometimes we just give up our Saturdays and take the students somewhere because a lot of them won’t go anywhere. These tough economic times, parents want them to go, but can’t afford to. So we take our Saturdays and go,” she said. “Research has shown that students who travel do better than students who do not. It might sound cliche that they will broaden their horizon, but they actually do. They can imagine more when they see more. It’s important for them to get out of their neighborhood and see that life is bigger than just their neighborhood.”
She’s found the motivation for students has paid off tenfold. Her school is thriving, enough to get the attention of the State of North Carolina last year for exceptional academic growth.
“Students could not sit in my classroom and fail. As an administrator, I still take the same approach. Failure is not an option,” she explained.
While Dr. Park is a force in the classroom, she also holds two titles much closer to her heart: wife and mother.
“When my children were young, they played sports in high school, and there would be times I’d sit with a book and try to multitask or go to an AAU game and work in the concession stand. When there was nobody there, I’d have a book or something I needed to get done there. I never slighted (my family). Can I say it was always easy? No. It wasn’t always easy. But one thing I know for sure — we do what we want to do and we make time what we want to make time for. I just found a way to make time for it,” she explained.
As Dr. Park continues to lead both her family and South Robeson Intermediate, she hopes she can continue to be a light for those around her.
“If we don’t have somebody who’s standing up and being a light, and someone who’s standing up being positive, I don’t know what’ll happen to the next generations.”