If there’s something educator Jill Prestel has wanted her students to take away from their education, being kind and making a difference are at the top of her list.

Jill Prestel, who taught sixth-grade at Southside Elementary School for 14 years, said those traits will ensure they have a strong future. Prestel will receive one of two William and Sally Hanley Excellence in Teaching awards administered through Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

She was nominated by Southside principal Jeff Backmeyer for her love of teaching, which he said brings out the best in every student.

Prestel “makes each student feel as if they are the most talented young person in her class. She invests in the whole child,” Backmeyer wrote.

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“She is their advocate and critic in the most personal and caring combination.”

Backmeyer, who said Prestel always has students as her top focus, described her as an individual who cares about students’ academic achievements and their feelings.

“I think what stands out to me is the constant drive to improve everyday,” Backmeyer said.

He added that Prestel empowers children to make a difference in the world and provides them with life skills to ensure their future success wherever they go.

“She wants them to improve as a person,” Backmeyer said. “She goes that extra mile to make sure they have that opportunity.”

Prestel admitted she was caught off-guard when learning she would receive award, describing it as an honor.

“I was completely surprised,” she said.

Motivating her students to see the bright side of life is also something Prestel has tried to focus on throughout her career, recognizing that with hard work and passion, positive things are ahead.

“They are the future, whether it’s Bartholomew County or the world,” she said. “I’m proud of the students and the things they’ve done.”

Prestel also was credited for her guidance of service-learning projects for her students, including volunteer bell ringing for the Salvation Army, fundraisers and food drives.

“Beyond academic standards, I’ve always tried to instill in the kids the value of kindness and making a difference in the world,” she said. “I never wanted them to think something was too big to make a difference.”

Prestel offered some advice for students as they continue in life

“Their voices count, their ideas matter and they are important — and a little kindness goes a long way,” she said.

“I want kids to know that they are respected and that their voice matters.”

Prestel worked in Perry Township at Southport Elementary School for six years before coming to BCSC.

Her future is somewhat uncertain, however, as Prestel recently resigned from her position at Southside.

“I’m feeling the need for some sort of change and I’m hoping that change will involve students and instilling confidence,” Prestel said.

About Jill Prestel

Name: Jill Prestel

Age: 53

Family: Married to Dan; they have three daughters — Alex, Niki and Tori.

Work history: Prestel taught in Perry Township for six years at Southport Elementary School before coming to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to work at Southside Elementary School, where she taught sixth grade for 14 years.

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