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Brook Bell, recently named the Outstanding Senior in the College of Education at EKU, has had a heart for students since before she was old enough to be one herself.

“I had always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I would play school when I was a little girl and pretend I was teaching my stuffed animals.” In high school, she felt her sense of calling to education reaffirmed through her experience mentoring at-risk youth. “I felt like I was doing what I was always meant to do.”

Bell is set to graduate from EKU in May, with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She hopes to teach primary grades (kindergarten-second grade) in her native Hardin County, Kentucky, or nearby Jefferson County.

During her time at EKU, Bell was actively involved in the Kentucky Educators Association Student Program (KEA-SP), an association of education students dedicated to “teacher quality, community outreach, political action and social justice.” She served as president of the local chapter and state outreach chair. “Joining KEA-SP was one of the best choices I made during college,” she reflected.

The EKU chapter attends conferences, lobbies for education in Frankfort and participates in community service projects. Bell said that the 30 hours of professional development on classroom diversity issues she has received through the organization has better prepared her to “go out and teach the next generation of leaders, doctors, mechanics, etc.” KEA-SP also developed Bell into a courageous education activist: “Before I joined, I had always had opinions but I never knew how to voice them and create change. But now I am not afraid to sit in a politician’s office and stand up for my profession and students.”

The most impactful experience of Bell’s education, however, occurred during her third year of clinicals, where she met a third-grade boy who had grown up in an unstable, abusive, drug-infested environment. Without caring adults to read to him at home, he had never learned to read. “I began to see how not being a strong reader could affect students’ confidence,” she said. “He would shut down and cry when he tried to read. It was heartbreaking.”

Unknowingly, the boy demonstrated to Bell how she could be part of the solution to such a tragic problem. “One time he got a new book and brought it to me on the playground,” she recalled. “He wanted so badly to access the world of books. That experience ignited a passion in me.” That passion turned Bell into a childhood literacy advocate, leading library and Read Across America events, and spending her summer working at a reading camp. She even plans to earn a master’s degree in literacy to better teach her students to read.

In addition to her teaching education, Bell said she has gained a “new sense of independence” since first coming to EKU.  She confessed that she is less afraid to enter new situations and try new things. “Moving two hours away from everyone I loved was scary,” she said. “I realized if I could do that, I could do anything.”

Bell admonished incoming freshmen not to neglect fun or self-care while working toward their degrees. But most of all, she wants for other students what she has found for herself: “Take every opportunity that comes your way. There are so many opportunities available here at EKU, you just have to find one that ignites your passion.”

— by Madison Harris, student writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management