Behind the blue ribbon lies the extraordinary, remarkably uncommon… Mrs. B

On a very average and ordinary sort of day last year, seven-year-old Quentin Murphy lost a tooth at South Nodaway Elementary School in Guilford.  But the events that would follow that moment were anything but average or ordinary.

The first grader was given a little plastic box to place the tooth in for safe keeping until he could get home and place it under his pillow for the tooth fairy.  Like most kids his age, he was excited about losing that tooth. All day long, he happily displayed it to his friends and his teachers.

During a restroom break, however, Quentin accidentally dropped the box down the drain and the tooth was gone forever.  Heartbroken and upset that the tooth fairy would not visit him without the tooth, South Nodaway Elementary Principal Darbi Bauman stepped in to help out.  She wrote a letter to the tooth fairy for Quentin to put under his pillow in place of the lost tooth. In the note, she explained that she was Quentin’s principal and could verify that Quentin did indeed lose a tooth, and while he didn’t have the physical tooth itself, the fairy should still visit him just the same.

“Little did we know, that once school let out for the day and all the children were gone, Darbi Bauman was in the boys restroom retrieving the lost tooth from the drain,” Tara Murphy, Quentin’s mother, said. “Just as we were leaving, here comes Darbi up our street, waving excitedly. She had retrieved the box from the drain with the tooth still inside. Quentin was so excited to have his lost tooth back.”  Tara continued, “There is no limit to how far Darbi will go for one of her students.”  And there’s no limit to how far she will go to teach them, too.

When Shayna Jo Henggeler was in Darbi’s second grade class, she was teaching them one day about following directions.  She asked them to tell her how to make a peanut butter sandwich.  “Darbi, being Darbi, did exactly as the class directed her,” LaShawna Henggeler, Shayna Jo’s mother, said.

First, she needed to go get some bread and peanut butter, as directed by the students, so she walked the entire class over to the local store and purchased them. Once back in the classroom, the children instructed her to spread the peanut butter on it. But they didn’t tell her to use a knife or other utensil. And they didn’t tell her where to spread it.  “So Darbi reaches into the jar with her fingers and starts to spread the peanut butter up and down her arm,” Henggeler said. “Needless to say, the children were in an instant roar.”
Henggeler continued: “She is a true icon in our school district and will be a legend in her day.”

The stories are endless, just as is her love for her students and the entire South Nodaway family. And many people will say Darbi Bauman is the reason behind the success the elementary school has had in recent years.  Most recently, they were named a 2009 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, one of only 314 elementary schools across the nation who were recognized with this status by the US Department of Education.

Darbi was born November 28, 1963, to Eddie and Rita Hilsabeck. She has three siblings, Kami, Kip and Grady.  She first became a Longhorn in August 1975 when she moved into the district with her family as a sixth grade student. She continued there until she graduated in 1982.  From there, she earned a bachelor of science degree in education in May 1986 from Missouri Western State College and then returned to South Nodaway where she taught both fifth and second grade.

“Darbi and I both started at South Nodaway in the fall of 1986,” Barb Sherry, kindergarten teacher, said. “From the beginning, you could tell that South Nodaway was very dear to her heart. She was always doing special things for her classes.  Sherry said Darbi was instrumental in pursuing and developing new programs, especially in reading and writing, early in her career.” She always wanted to motivate and excite her kids about learning,” Sherry said.

One thing her class always looked forward to in the spring was her economics unit, where they ran a pop and popcorn company.  “They learned the basics of starting a business, took a trip to the bank and secured a real loan complete with interest,” Sherry said. “They did cost comparisons, bought the supplies and prepared and sold the product during recess time. Then, with the profit they had earned, they gave back to the community.”

In 1993, Darbi received a master of science degree in education from Northwest Missouri State University. And in 2005, she became the elementary principal.  Macia Kemper, a South Nodaway Board of Education member and parent, said when Darbi was named principal, she was a little disappointed that her two youngest children wouldn’t have the opportunity to have her as a teacher.  “But as the principal, I have watched her turn the whole school into her classroom,” Kemper said. “The kids love her. She creates a loving, nurturing, happy environment.”

Since taking over the helm, Sherry believes Darbi is even more devoted to the school.
“I don’t think a day goes by that she isn’t thinking of what is best for the kids and how she can motivate and inspire them,” she said. “She is truly loved and respected by every single student as well as by her staff and the parents. South Nodaway Elementary is as great as it is in large part because of her.”

Not just a job  Like all truly exceptional educators, First Grade Teacher Wanda Bloom said Darbi connects with everyone on a personal level.  “She takes the time to know what’s happening in their lives and what’s important to them, not just on an academic or behavioral level, but on an intimate level,” Bloom said. “The students know she is interested in them as individuals, not just in their academic performance.
“Darbi makes our students feel like they’re among family while at South Nodaway, rather than just students attending school.”

And they reciprocate those feelings toward her. Like the outpouring of love following the recent death of her husband, Kevin, that was shown to her and her children, Taylor, Payden, Quayde and Brody.  “When she returned from work after her husband passed away, every single elementary student greeted her with a hug, one at a time,” Barnard resident and parent, Amy Wolf, said. “The children all love her and so does the community.”

K-12 counselor Nick Wray said he doesn’t know how Darbi handles everything that life throws at her, but she takes it all in stride, displaying quiet strength with each step.  “Those around her become better people just by knowing her and watching the way she copes with the everyday stress that comes along with her profession and her new role as a single parent,” he said.

Her students say it best: For all of the children who have walked the halls at South Nodaway and have known Mrs. B, as they call her, one thing seems to be same. They truly love her.
“Mrs. B is a really nice principal,” Eryn Kemper, second grade, said. “She always gives you hugs and kisses (a supply of candy she keeps in her office). I love Mrs. B.”  Fifth grader Meaghan McConkey said, “Mrs. B is always really happy for us. She likes to hear what we are happy about.”
Kaylin LaMaster, a second grader, said, “She’s nice.”  Thirteen-year-old Shea Miller said, “Mrs. B is the best person I’ve ever met…and I love her to death.”  Quenton Manship, kindergarten, when asked what he thought of her, said, “fine” and nodded his head that he liked her.  Savannah Bennett, a fourth grader, said, “Mrs. B helps us a lot. She’s a great principal.”  Sixth grader Austin Pulley said, “She’s probably one of the best principals in the world.”

With possibly one of the “best” principals around leading their school, South Nodaway received notification of their Blue Ribbon award back in September.  The program honors public and private schools that are academically superior or demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement.  Darbi, ever humble, gave the credit to everyone else.  “It is such an honor for this community,” she said. “Our students, faculty, staff, board and parents work hard and it is so nice to see them honored for their dedication.”

When people ask how South Nodaway has achieved so much success, her answer is always the same: “We are about people not programs. It is all about our students and what is best for them. We have teachers that are committed to helping students reach their potential. We have a veteran staff of professional educators that work tirelessly to meet the individual needs of our students. We are blessed to have a school community that is committed to making the education of our children a priority. What is best for our students drives every decision made.”

South Nodaway Superintendent Kyle Collins said an award like this doesn’t happen overnight.
“It is very gratifying to know that we have such dedicated students who care about doing outstanding work and Mrs. Bauman, the teachers, staff and parents should all be commended for fostering such a positive attitude toward education,” he said. “Darbi brings empathy, compassion and caring to her role as an educational leader. She cares deeply for each of her students and makes decisions based upon what she believes to be best for them.”

Julie McConkey, a parent and math teacher in the district, said Darbi is a very special person.
“The Blue Ribbon is really a reflection of what Darbi and her staff do that is so important to our children,” she said.

And it is by her example, Wray said, they are being recognized.”The example that she has set for all of us at South Nodaway is one of the main reasons that we are celebrating our designation as a Blue Ribbon School,” he said.

As part of the Blue Ribbon Award, South Nodaway Elementary held a special ceremony at the school on November 13.  Hundreds of students, parents, faculty and community members attended, boasting tiny blue ribbons on their shirts in honor of the award. The entire student body participated, with the fourth to sixth graders singing the national anthem and the kindergarten through third grade leading The Pledge of Allegiance.

Several honored guests were also in attendance, including Larry Price, state supervisor of instruction, Beccy Baldwin, RDPC director, and Sarah Woodward, field representative to Congressman Sam Graves.
“Congratulations to South Nodaway Elementary students, teachers and parents for being named a 2009 Blue Ribbon School,” Woodward said. “Congressman Graves is honored to represent such an exemplary elementary school in Northwest Missouri.”

So even now with the Blue Ribbon Award firmly in hand, Darbi said there will be no backing down or resting.
“We are no different than every other school in Missouri,” she said. “Schools are in the people business where our students all come to us with different backgrounds and experiences. It is our challenge to help them to continue to reach their fullest potential.”

For children like Quentin and Shayna Jo and hundreds of others before them and those yet to come, she is South Nodaway Elementary.  And she is anything but average. She is the extraordinarily and remarkably uncommon Mrs. B.

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