HANNIBAL — Melissa Long has cherished the past 22 years of making a difference in Kindergarten students’ lives. She was honored for her efforts Wednesday, receiving the 2021 McDonald’s Outstanding Educator Award from a pool of more than 425 nominations.
The second annual 2021 McDonald’s Outstanding Educator Award competition honors teachers for their dedication to their students and tireless efforts to support children on their educational journeys. The group of 17 students in Long’s Kindergarten class at A.D. Stowell Elementary School celebrated the big day with their teacher and Hannibal McDonald’s Owner/Operator Bob Gilstrap. He stressed the importance of recognizing teachers like Long for their hard work each day.
“Our local educators are the definition of perseverance and loyalty. They show up and give their all day after day to make sure our students thrive,” Gilstrap said. “We’re excited to recognize those who go above and beyond for our students through the Outstanding Educator awards.”
Gilstrap presented Long with a $100 Visa gift card to use toward her classroom, a coffee mug and certificates and McDonald’s coupons to provide to parents with outstanding students throughout the year.
Long looks forward to sharing the coupons and certificates with students from this school year, as well as students she formed strong connections with in previous years.
Long came from a family of teachers with one grandmother and both her aunts in the education field. She “always loved working with kids,” and felt that pursuing an education degree would be the right step during college.
After receiving her degree, Long began searching for jobs. She found a position in Hannibal where she enriched Kindergarteners’ lives as an art and music aide. That first year, she taught students at Eugene Field Elementary School, Oakwood Elementary School and A.D. Stowell Elementary School.
Long was hired the next year as a Kindergarten teacher at A.D. Stowell Elementary School. She expressed her joy of getting to teach Kindergarten students and be a part of the A.D. Stowell Elementary School faculty since the beginning of her career.
“We build from the foundation in Kindergarten,” Long said, noting many students start out not recognizing their name or how to write them. “And by the end of the year, they are readers and mathematicians. It’s a joy to see that growth with my kids. And their stories are the best. Kindergarten has the best stories, and I laugh almost every day.”
For Long, the best part of being a teacher is approaching every day as a new one. She said her students know each day is a “fresh start” with new opportunities to grow academically and socially.
After Long led her smiling students to the cafeteria, Gilstrap asked them, “Guess where I’m from?”
One of the students excitedly responded “McDonald’s.” Long and her students shared smiles as Gilstrap presented her with the award, including a bright red coffee mug with the inscription “Best. Teacher. Ever.”
“I was so touched that I was thought of and nominated, and I am in wonderful company of great educators. I was very excited to receive this,” Long said.
Long pointed out every child progresses differently, and she takes a “big picture” approach to helping each student succeed.
“Every child makes their own growth, and I love to celebrate that with them,” she said.
Long is also proud to have been with A.D. Stowell Elementary School and teaching Kindergarteners for the past 22 years. She fondly remembered being in the old school building, and the excitement of moving into the new school building.
“South Side loves Stowell, and I love to be a part of that,” Long said, noting the rich history of the area. “They’re very proud of their neighborhood and their school.”
It takes a great deal of energy to teach Kindergarten, but Long said it has been extremely rewarding every step of the way.
“It’s the kids. They make your job worth it.”