‘That’s my calling’: CSA Lincoln teacher honored with Folger Award

First grade teacher Lori Cash keeps her students in line as they wait to vote during a mock election for the Columbus Signature Academy's Lincoln campus Indiana Kids Election on Election Day in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Mike Wolanin | The Republic File photo

For Lori Cash, teaching is practically the family trade.

She teaches first grade at Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln, her mother and two older sisters are retired elementary school teachers, and her younger sister teaches high school science. 

“It was just kind of something I knew," Cash said. "When I first went to Purdue, I just thought … ‘I’m not going to be a teacher, like everybody else.’ And then I realized, ‘No, that’s my calling.’”

Now, as Cash enters her 30th year of teaching, that calling is marked by a special achievement — the honor of receiving the Edna V. Folger Outstanding Teacher Award.

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The award is given by the Center for Teaching and Leadership at IUPUC, in partnership with the Community Education Coalition and SIHO. Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials said Faurecia has supported the award for almost 40 years. 

The annual award "was designed to raise awareness about the immeasurable influence teachers have on their students and to recognize the image of teachers as important community role models."

Usually presented in the spring, the Folger award is presented at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting, an event that has been moved to September this year due to the pandemic.

Cash was surprised when, during a teacher work day at CSA Lincoln in early August, she received the award on the school’s front steps. Her family, however, had known since the spring and kept the secret for months.

"I was very surprised and very honored," Cash said. "I know every year I look at who wins the award and think, you know, how deserving they were. And so, I just feel honored to be in a category with those educators.”

The 2020-21 school year marks Cash’s 30th year of teaching and her 10th year at CSA Lincoln. Cash moved to Columbus from Bloomington more than a decade ago, when her husband became the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbus.  

Before working at CSA Lincoln, Cash taught English as a Second Language at the McDowell Education Center and was later hired as a literacy coordinator. She also worked as a Book Buddies coordinator, had a part-time job as a Title I first grade teacher at Columbus Signature Academy Fodrea and worked at the one-room schoolhouse in Hope. 

Of all of her different teaching experiences, Cash has a clear favorite — teaching first grade.

"They learn so much in first grade," she said. "They grow so much.”

Cash said that the best part of being a teacher is connecting with her students.

“It’s definitely the kids and their smiles and watching them feel good about themselves when they master something or when they realize how special they are," she said. "And I try to help them feel that way, building their self-confidence.”

In its award notice, IUPUC said, "One parent described Mrs. Cash as the ‘whisperer.’ She intuitively identifies unique qualities within each student. She helps to unlock their individual strengths and exceptional greatness so they confidently become the best version of themselves."

Cash stressed that teaching "is more than just teaching the academics." It’s also about teaching social skills and making personal connections with students. She also said that it’s about helping meet students’ physical needs, such as food, clothing and safety. 

“I want to do my best for them and make sure that I can give them everything, and so that weighs heavy on me as a big responsibility," she said. "And I think right now, when we’re trying to keep everybody safe, I take that even more seriously.”

COVID-19 has brought some adjustments for Cash. In the spring, she had to get creative with reaching out to her students in the midst of eLearning. She dropped off supplies for kids with limited access to technology, called students to check in, used Facetime and other apps to stay in touch and made a Facebook page to keep her classroom connected.

Now that Cash is back for in-person learning, there are new challenges, such as teaching language skills while wearing a mask.

“So much of what we do is, you know, with our faces, our smiles and, especially teaching reading, they have to be able to see your face to make the sounds," she explained.

Still, in spite of the challenges that come with being a teacher, Cash has no regrets about following her heart into teaching.

“I love my job," she said. "I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t teaching.”

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Lori Cash is a first grade teacher at Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln. She is in her 30th year as a teacher and her 10th year at CSA Lincoln. 

Cash also serves on the CSA Lincoln Continuous Improvement Council and the School Guiding Team.

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The Edna V. Folger Outstanding Teacher Award is given by the Center for Teaching and Leadership at IUPUC, in partnership with the Community Education Coalition and SIHO. Faurecia has supported the award for almost 40 years.

According to IUPUC, "Edna Folger set the early standard for teachers. In her honor, Arvin Foundation establishes the award which was designed to raise awareness about the immeasurable influence teachers have on their students and to recognize the image of teachers as important community role models."

IUPUC stated in its award notice that "any full-time elementary or secondary school teacher working at a public, private or parochial school in Bartholomew County is eligible to receive the annual award."

The award includes a stipend and a personal award from the Center for Teaching and Learning. Furthermore, Cash’s name will be added to a permanent plaque located in the Columbus Learning Center and she will be recognized as part of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting held at The Commons on Sept. 18.

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Edna V. Folger was a math teacher for over 46 years and almost half her life. She was at one time the math department head at Columbus High School, as well as the sponsor of the school’s yearbook, National Honor Society and Sunshine Society.

"She wasn’t the kind of teacher who just taught the 40 or 50 minutes she had to," said former student and local businessman Cal Brand in Folger’s obituary. "Her sole objective was to help her students learn, and she was good at it. I admired her so much. She was a wonderful, wonderful teacher." 

Folger was also a member the Order of the Eastern Star, the Business and Professional Women’s Association, the National Retired Teachers Association and the Kappa Kappa Sigma sorority. She also volunteered at Columbus Regional Hospital and was a chaperone for the Junior City Slickers band. 

The Arvin Foundation created the Edna V. Folger Distinguished Teacher Award (as it was known then) in 1982. The criteria included "dedication to the teaching profession, years of service in a local school system, ability to motivate students in the classroom, subject knowledge, and ability to teach subject."

James K. Baker, former chairman of Arvin Industries, said, "We created the award because we wanted to encourage good teaching, and we felt (Edna) could be an inspiration to teachers." Baker’s wife, Beverly, was a former student of Folger. 

Folger died on May 28, 1999 at the age of 100.