A desire to help students grow and become successful is part of a Richards Elementary School teacher’s daily mission.

Wendy Foster, a sixth-grade teacher at Richards the past two years, is one of two recipients of this year’s William and Sally Hanley Excellence in Teaching award administered through Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

Foster was nominated by Richards Principal Darin Sprong for her commitment to helping students find success and developing personalized strategies to meet their needs.

Foster’s first two teaching roles were in Belleville, Illinois, outside of St. Louis, where she taught first grade, and then in Fort Worth, Texas, where she taught second-graders.

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But then she transitioned into a different type of teaching, spending 14 years teaching Bible school while working in lay ministry at Bible Study Fellowship International in Columbus. Foster was also employed at Community Church of Columbus, where she served as children’s ministry director before returning to the classroom in 2013.

Her first job with BCSC was at Smith Elementary School, where she taught third-grade students for a year.

“It was an unexpected blessing and privilege to be offered a position,” Foster said.

Foster chose to go into education in part because her father had been an educator in O’Fallon, Illinois.

“It was the culture I was brought up in,” she said.

A return to the classroom has allowed Foster to work closely with her students, many of whom have different perspectives of themselves, she said.

“They’re kind of fighting for their independence and with that comes a lot of emotional conflict,” she said.

However, Foster said she deals with that by being available for students and providing whenever support they need, helping lift pressure that might get in the way of their success.

“We learn and grow, and learn together,” Foster said.

Besides her main role as a teacher, Foster provides professional development support to colleagues at Richards and at the district level, Sprong said. She is a member of the district’s Universal Design for Learning Goal Action Team.

“She’s obviously trusted by her colleagues and she always puts students first,” Sprong said.

The principal described Foster as an individual who wants those around her — co-workers and students — to be the best they can be. She also incorporates different approaches as part of her teaching to reach students in her classroom, he said.

“She’s appreciated by her colleagues, students and parents alike,” Sprong said. “She goes above and beyond for all of our stakeholders.”

But Foster said she feels privileged to work for BCSC, where collaboration and professional development are encouraged.

She said being named a Hanley Award winner caught her by surprise.

“I was very humbled and shocked,” Foster said.

She noted that part of her inspiration comes from Sprong, who gives her the opportunity to be creative and take risks.

Seeing students succeed is what Foster said she enjoys most about being a teacher.

“It’s kind of my passion to help,” she said.

About Wendy Foster

Name: Wendy Foster

Age: 50

Family: Married to Mark; they have five children — Yana, Dyana, Jacob, Jordan and Jonathan

Work history: Foster has worked for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. for three years, starting at Smith Elementary School teaching third grade. She has been a sixth-grade teacher at Richards Elementary School for the past two years. Foster began her career in education with teaching positions in Belleville, Illinois, and Fort Worth, Texas, before moving into the lay ministry at Bible Study Fellowship International, where she was a Bible teacher for 14 years. She also formerly served as children’s ministry director at Community Church of Columbus before returning to the classroom.

If you go

What: Recognition of elementary school teachers Wendy Foster and Jill Prestel, who received the William and Sally Hanley Excellence in Teaching award, which was established in 2000 and comes with a $750 stipend.

When: 7 p.m. today during BSCSC school board meeting

Where: Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. administration building, 1200 Central Ave., in the Terrace Room

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com