Beloved Georgia teacher retires on her 95th birthday, after teaching more than 75 years

A Georgia teacher retired on her 95th birthday after teaching for a whopping 78 years.

Since 1976, Grace Adkins has taught at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia, about 60 miles north of Tallahassee. She retired on May 18 and was serenaded with a birthday song by students and staff.

Her tenure as a teacher has taken her to Elmodel School in 1946, Deerfield-Windsor Academy, and finally Westwood Schools. Locals call her “a Westwood icon.”.

She founded the Westwood Learning Lab at the school and in 2022, she was voted best teacher by the Mitchell County Enterprise-Journal.

Those who know her describe her as passionate and an avid reader who even recommended books for community members to check out on a biweekly basis.

The school even compiled a list of the teacher’s top 50 book recommendations, which includes titles such as the Bible, “The Dyslexic Advantage” and “Different … Not Less.”.

This month, students and teachers surprised her and sang Happy Birthday, said Keith Croft, headmaster of Westwood Schools.

“All the kids came outside in front of the learning lab and I led them in singing Happy Birthday to Ms. Grace,” he told USA TODAY Friday morning. “She enjoyed it immensely. Numerous kids came up and gave her hugs afterwards. That was a very special moment.”.

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He said Adkins’ love for reading and the students she taught is unmatched.

“Her legacy will continue to live on at Westwood for many, many years,” he said.

Memories pour in about the beloved teacher

In a Facebook post on May 2, the school asked past and present students and colleagues to submit their favorite memories of the educator. The submissions were included in a book of letters and notes for her.

“It is impossible to know the number of lives she has impacted with her relentless determination to find the best in every student, firmly believing that ‘Every Child is a Winner,'” the school wrote in its post. “We are grateful for her lifelong focus on students, as she has created early intervention strategies to help each student reach his/her potential.”.

Some people even shared positive thoughts about her in the comments that same day.

“You cannot measure the love and devotion this lovely lady has given to learning and communicating the self worth of children who learn differently,” wrote one Facebook user. “She will be sorely missed at Westwood.”.

Adkins touched many, community members say

In a post about the Westwood Learning Lab and Adkins’ legacy, a Facebook user shared memories illustrating just how much she and the lab mean to locals.

Over the years, Adkins and other teachers have shown up to work before anyone else arrived. While in the lab, Adkins and her colleagues often worked with students who struggled in certain areas, the post read.

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“Mama signed me up to go to The Lab so I could get extra help with math, which I struggled with even in elementary school,” the social media user recalled. “It was, and I’m sure still is, Mrs. Adkins’ passion. She is a true educator, a teacher who cared enough to push, to prod, to ‘be mean’ when she had to.”.

The former student said there were days when they didn’t like Adkins very much. Some days they didn’t want to go to the lab at all.

“Matthew, stay on task,” the former student recalled her saying sternly. “She cared, cared about every young mind who walked through her door, never turning a student away, and never, ever giving up on one, including me. Mrs. Adkins, Grace is more than your name; it’s what you gave us. Thank you.”.

The day she retired, WRDW anchor and producer Laura Warren shared memories about her as well. She recalled spending time in the learning lab with Adkins working on something difficult. When Warren mastered it, she didn’t feel quite the way she’d imagined she would.

“I was sad once I did,” Warren wrote on Facebook. “I was all done. No more learning lab. She’s touched a lot of lives over the years, and her influence is felt all over the world through thousands of students who are better for knowing her and learning from her.”.

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