Scott Teays Elementary’s Sowards Receives Arch Coal Achievement Award

Charleston, W. Va. (March 5, 2012) –Debra A. Sowards’ love for children began in her teenage years. “I found children to be interesting, challenging and mystical,” she recalls. “Caring for and nurturing children was second nature to me, so pursuing a career in education was an easy choice.

“I was fortunate to have compassionate teachers that encouraged me to dream big and follow my heart. I wanted to be that same kind of teacher!” Sowards adds. “I love teaching and the opportunity to mold and shape children into productive citizens and start them on their pathway to success.”

Sowards is certainly a qualified guide on that path. Today she was among only 12 teachers statewide to receive a 2012 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. Steven F. Leer, Arch Coal chairman and chief executive officer, made the announcement at an awards ceremony at the Clay Center. He was accompanied by West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) President Dale Lee.

“Debra Sowards is frequently asked by young people considering education as a profession if she enjoys teaching,” says Leer. “After 29 years as an educator, her answer is always a definitive ‘Yes!’ It’s clear that Debra accepts the great responsibilities of teaching and finds it a rewarding career.”

Sowards teaches kindergarten students at Scott Teays Elementary, Scott Depot. “I make their learning experience fun and exciting in my classroom through many hands-on activities, from dressing up as a famous president to engaging in technology using the Smartboard – equipping them with skills and fundamentals that will last a lifetime,” says Sowards.

“Every student is unique and poses a challenge, which is intriguing and rewarding to a teacher,” she adds. “From the little girl who has been neglected and abused to the autistic boy that is in a world of his own, I endeavor to connect with each one of my students through genuine love and concern.”

Sowards earned a bachelor’s degree at West Virginia State University, Institute, and a master’s degree at Marshall University. She also holds literacy specialist certification. Sowards took professional computer training to successfully integrate computers into her classroom, leading students to master the wonders of the Internet. Through DIBEL training, Sowards can detect critical skills that predict success in teaching young children to read. Crisis management seminars have provided her with tools to effectively handle critical situations. Sowards taught for three years in the ESL Literacy Acquisition Program for non-English speaking children in Kanawha County during the summer months. For the past eight years, she has taught in Putnam County’s Transitional Kindergarten Program, and she tutors children after school in all areas of academics. Sowards is a Scott Teays Teacher of the Year, and she has been featured on the cover of The Reading Professor, a journal published by the International Reading Association. Sowards has supported and continues to further support her community through a range of initiatives and encourages her students to perform community service, too.

In addition to recognition, Teacher Achievement awardees receive a $3,500 unrestricted cash prize, a distinctive trophy and a classroom plaque. The West Virginia Foundation for the Improvement of Education, a foundation of WVEA, makes a $1,000 award to each recipient’s school for use with at-risk students.

The teacher recognition awards are underwritten by the Arch Coal Foundation and supported in program-promotion by the West Virginia Department of Education, the WVEA and the West Virginia Library Commission. The Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Awards is the longest running, privately sponsored teacher-recognition program in the state. Nominations are made by the public, and selection is made by a blue-ribbon panel of the teachers’ peers – previous recipients of the award.

The Arch Coal Foundation also supports teacher-recognition or grant programs in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, as well as a number of other education-related causes.

U.S.-based Arch Coal, Inc. (NYSE:ACI) is a top five global coal producer and marketer, and the most diversified American coal company, with  mining complexes across every major U.S. coal supply basin. In 2011, Arch continued to lead the U.S. coal industry in safety performance and environmental compliance among large, diversified producers. In West Virginia, Arch Coal subsidiaries operate mining complexes at Beckley; Buckhannon (Imperial); Cowen (Eastern); Grafton (Tygart); Holden (Coal-Mac); Morgantown (Patriot); Philippi (Sentinel); and Sharples (Mountain Laurel).