Unique Williams was behind.
Open heart surgery to fix a murmur and wrecked valves kept her out of school for two years, and her reading suffered. When she started the fifth grade last fall, she had a third-grade reading level at best.
Things are different now, and the 10-year-old credits her teacher.
“She taught me everything that I didn't know,” Unique said.
Her teacher, Heather Meldrum, was named the Oklahoma City Teacher of the Year in a ceremony Thursday night. Meldrum is a fifth-grade teacher from Stanley Hupfeld Academy at Western Village.
The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools organizes the Teacher of the Year program. Meldrum will receive a $1,500 grant for her classroom.
Meldrum's family, friends, co-workers and Unique were in the crowd to hear her named the winner. They chanted her name and wiped away tears as she received the honor.
Unique's mother, LaToya Ballard, said Meldrum deserved to win. Meldrum stayed late, provided extra tutoring and gave Unique hope that she could succeed, Ballard said.
‘More than a teacher'
“She's an excellent teacher. She's more than excellent. She's more than a teacher,” Ballard said. “She was the person who stepped in and wasn't scared. She never stopped. ... She just believed in (Unique) more than any teacher ever did.”
Meldrum said Thursday night that she hopes to use her visibility as Teacher of the Year to raise awareness of challenges students face and how they can overcome those challenges.
“Even as adults, we come to our jobs with a history,” she said. “When you reflect on your life ... you think, man, it was loaded. Our kids come to school with these same situations.”
Meldrum has only been teaching for six years. Before, she worked as a medical assistant for Integris and then as a banking assistant for MidFirst Bank.
Meldrum said she decided to become a teacher after Junior Achievement asked her to teach a business class to elementary school children. She went to college and graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2006.