OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Teachers touch countless young lives, but one Ocean Springs teacher left a lasting impression on her students. On Tuesday, a Coast organization surprised that teacher with a special award.
Excited students and teachers packed the auditorium at Oak Park Elementary, but they had no idea why the school called the assembly. Then, a former student took the stage to talk about a teacher who inspired him.
"When I was in her class, it was exciting. Every day she had something new. She was my friend. This is why she was the best teacher ever," said fourth grader Hasan Molvi.
Third-grade teacher Melanie Howell was in tears as she listened to Hasan explain why she deserves to be teacher of the year. Howell felt deeply moved as she accepted the "Janine-Pieper Niolon" award.
"I love what I do, just thank you," she said to the crowd.
The award, given out by the Ocean Springs Education Foundation, honors the memory of Jan and Pieper Niolon. Jan, a former foundation member, and her 12-year-old daughter were shot to death in their Ocean Springs home in 2012.
"It was a tragic ending to their life and this is a great way to prolong their memory and honor," said OSEF President Brad Patano.
Shortly after their deaths, the organization gave out the first award at Oak Park. Nearly five years later, members returned to celebrate another Oak Park teacher.
"I did not know what to say. I did not expect it. I love what I do. I love teaching. I love children, and it was just beautiful," said Howell.
"She teaches good and she's awesome," said fourth grader Kaiden Wade, who also wrote a letter about Howell.
"I've been doing this for 20 years and I can't wait to continue to teach more children and hopefully, make a difference in the lives of many more," said Howell.
Howell received a personal check for $500, plus another check for $2,500 to spend on her classroom or for professional development. Howell said she plans to use the money to purchase more technology, including Chromebooks, for her classroom.