Everyday Hero: Natchez teacher enjoys watching students growPublished 12:10am Friday, November 1, 2013
NATCHEZ — For teacher and mentor Tommie Jones, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the smiles on children’s faces.
Jones is a special education teacher at Natchez High School and mentors athletes in the Special Olympics, and she said those smiles go a long way.
Jones always knew she would be involved with children, initially majoring in physical education at Jackson State University, but one community service event changed her path.
“My teacher had me do some volunteer work when I was a PE major,” Jones said. “I enjoyed it so much I changed my major to special education.”
Jones has been working with the Special Olympics and teaching special education for more than 30 years, and she said she loves helping the children solidify their place in life while having fun along the way.
“I have seen a lot of them grow because of Special Olympics,” she said. “It gives them different avenues to show their talent. They get excited, and that rubs off on me.”
There is no room for self-pity when working with special needs people, Jones said, because they bring simplicity to the world and turn what some view as negative into something uplifting.
“Most of them are happy about just being a member and participating, because it gives them something to do,” Jones said. “It makes me reflect and just be thankful for my life. Many of them don’t have an idea of their disability, and they just live and enjoy life.
“I don’t have time to complain about what I’m going through when I look at these kids and what they’re going through. They still have a smile on their face and they’re working really hard to accomplish things that are simple for us.”
Jones said one of her most profound moments came when one of her Special Olympians competed in the wheelchair race.
“We have one kid named Roderick Smith, and he has to push his wheelchair backwards because he can’t use his hands,” Jones said. “It was about 10 meters and to see his determination and how hard he was trying to accomplish that, it was so rewarding. When he got through it, you should’ve seen his face. It lit up.”
Moments like that gives Jones joy and gratification, and she said she would encourage everyone to get involved — even the regular students at Natchez High School.
“I bring in the regular kids to help me with Special Olympics so they get an opportunity to see the kids and deal with them,” she said. “And you wont believe the refreshing attitude they get from working with the special kids. I bring them in so they can get the same experiences I have gotten.”
Jones said she is hoping to take her Special Olympians to practice for Olympic bowling at the Rivergate Bowl in December.