In the same year she led her rookie mock trial team to a state championship, Juanita Sanders of Springfield Middle School was named Law Related Education Middle School Teacher of the Year by the S.C. Bar. "I was ecstatic over receiving it because there are so many great teachers in this state," Sanders said shortly after school let out for summer break last Thursday.
S.C. Bar representatives presented Sanders with the award at the Springfield student awards ceremony earlier that morning. It came with a $1,000 cash prize.
"Just to have $1,000 is great," she said.
She's not sure what she will do with the money. Ten percent will go to her church, but she is considering putting the rest towards buying a hybrid car.
Sanders is the third teacher to win the award since it was created in 2005.
"What set her apart was that she worked with the mock trial team at Gold Hill Middle School and then she started the Springfield Mock Trial team from scratch," Bar spokeswoman Elizabeth Martin said. "No one else had done that."
In addition to starting the Springfield Mock Trial team, she is also the Beta Club and Student Government sponsor at the school. Prior to the opening of Springfield two years ago, she led the Mock Trial team at Gold Hill Middle School, and still volunteers some of her free time at Gold Hill.
"She is an amazing person and teacher," Springfield Principal Keith Griffin said. "She works extremely hard. It's not a paid position and she's here until 7 or 8 p.m. some nights."
Griffin worked with Sanders at Gold Hill for seven years before taking the top job at Springfield. Although he wasn't allowed to recruit teachers from other schools in the district for Springfield, he is glad Sanders decided to go with him.
"You can't put into words what she does for our school," Griffin said.
Sanders tries to instill in her students an understanding of the way U.S. laws and government work. She hopes her students will become critical thinkers who ask questions and analyze what they are told.
"I think my students are seeing the real picture, not just what's in text books," she said. "They can see that everything is written in black and white, but it can be twisted any which way, that history is yesterday's news, that it's all interrelated, and realize the Constitution is the supreme law of the land."