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From bullied to beaming, North Forsyth’s Jessica Younghouse named 2020 Teacher of the Year
Jessica Younghouse
Jessica Younghouse, a literature teacher at North Forsyth High School, was named Forsyth County Schools' 2020 Teacher of the Year at the annual Celebration of Excellence. - photo by Ben Hendren

Jessica Younghouse said growing up, she had trouble keeping up with her classmates, saying she “couldn’t read well and anything math-related was confusing” and went through special instruction, tutoring, a learning disability diagnosis and even bullying at the hands of an elementary school teacher.

By middle school, Younghouse said she tested out of the special education program, which she said showed her that “intelligence is not fixed” and she could accomplish any goal with perseverance, a mindset that brought her into a career in education and, as of Thursday, being Forsyth County Schools’ Teacher of the Year.

“My parents are still perplexed with my career choice considering my educational struggle,” Younghouse said. “But that is exactly why I chose education. I am a success story, all teachers are. Somewhere during our formative years, somebody inspired us and helped us during trying times. We realized that significance, and by paying it forward, we’re showing our thanks and appreciation to those individuals.”

As Teacher of the Year, Younghouse, a literature teacher at North Forsyth High School, was one of several individuals honored by the school system on Thursday at the annual Celebration of Excellence, where she spoke about what the award meant to her.

Comparing herself to her and her husband’s lakeside home, Younghouse said she was “an academic fixer-upper” but while others only saw the work involved, she saw the potential in both herself and her students.

“Since I struggled so much as a child, I devoted a lot of time and energy into my career,” she said. “I still do. I struggle with work-life balance, my family can tell you that,” she said. “But with teaching, I finally felt I was good at something academic.”

Before being announced as the winner, she was one of 38 Teachers of the Year – one for each school in the county – and seven semi-finalists honored at the ceremony. Along with being Teacher of the Year, Younghouse was also given a lease for a new Chevy Equinox by Andean Chevrolet.

“When I was announced Teacher of the Year at my school, I thought that was it, it was just a brief recognition, an announcement. I realized I was wrong,” Younghouse said. “But all joking aside, I realized I can handle the pressure and the demands of each round, and I’m grateful to be among such extraordinary educators today and celebrate our accomplishments and our successes.”

For each semifinalist, a student talked about what their teacher meant to them in a video. NFHS student July Morning credited Younghouse with making learning fun, even if the tests and other assignments often weren’t.

“She makes sure that everybody is focused and focusing on their work, but she also is having fun with it,” Morning said.  “So for us, it’s not as stressful as other classes, and I think that’s brilliant because it gets everybody engaged. Especially for this level of AP course, we don’t always have fun in what we’re doing, but she knows what’s best for us and she knows what’s going to be good for us in the future, too.”

Younghouse wasn’t the only award winner of the day.

Joe Albano was selected as the 2020 Mentor of the Year for his work with nine students across three county schools and was nominated by Chattahoochee Elementary and Little Mill Middle schools.

The Reiss Family was awarded the Friend of the Year for donations made by Madison, a seventh-grader, and Jake, who is in fifth-grade, who donated $600 to pay off negative lunch balances for students.

Meg Phleger, of Shiloh Point Elementary School, and Richard Yother, who serves four of the county’s high schools, were winners of 2020 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Phleger coordinates the school’s fathers’ involvement group Watch DOGS, coordinates the annual holiday shop and organized the Read-A-Thon, which has raised more than $28,000 for the school.

Yother, who spent 31 years employed by General Electric, demonstrates welding for in upper-level engineering classes, including at Alliance Academy for Innovation.

Three local businesses were also honored for their partnerships with the local school system.

Martin Marietta was chosen as the Silver Program winner for their efforts, including getting involved with the wellness initiative at Forsyth Central High School and South Forsyth High School’s passion academies.

The Gold Program Award winner was the Cumming Civitan Club, which works with the special education program by holding dances and events, the iFocus Intervention Center for students with autism and the Extended School Year program at Whitlow Elementary School.

Georgia Highlands Medical Services was the winner of the Don Hendricks Partnership Award, named after a lont0time member of the board of education, for their work providing free health screenings and helping families complete more than 600 3300 forms, a certification if vision, hearing, dental and nutritional screening.