Toes in the sand (community column)

By Kathy Copeland / Vincent Community Columnist

Jo Leigh Harlow has dedicated 40 years of her life to educating young people, and 32 years of those have been at Vincent Middle High School. In announcing her retirement, she has made it known she and her husband Andy Snoddy are headed to Navarre Beach to live out their retirement.

Dr. Michele Edwards, in acknowledging Harlow at the Awards Ceremony on May 2, said, “She is one of those teachers you want to stay longer. She has adjusted to my crazy ideas, and there is never a doubt she puts forth her best effort for these kids.”

The packed gymnasium burst into a cheering, standing ovation as she approached the podium to be recognized not only for her retirement but for being “Teacher of the Year.” With an embracing hug, Edwards said, “We love you Ms. Harlow.”

An accomplished contributor to the school system, Harlow received her M.Ed. at the University of Montevallo. She has been a Scholar’s Bowl coach for 15 years. She has taught sixth, seventh and eighth graders American history, social studies, math (Algebra 1) and ELA (English, writing and reading.)

“ELA was one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in teaching. It combined English and reading into one class which means you have to teach the same amount of material in one class period. I found a program called Laying the Foundation; it teaches all of the skills by using the reading of a novel,” Harlow explained.  “Our reading scores on the Scranton test excelled.”

Also having a degree in music with a concentration in piano and pipe organ, she has shared this talent with students for 10 years. Her heart for others extends beyond the classroom. She has also served as the sponsor for the Jr. BETA Club. Teaching young people the value of serving others, coordinating and escorting her group to the Ronald McDonald House, Jimmy Hale Mission, and Christmas caroling at nursing homes, along with numerous volunteer hours.

It’s no surprise, when asked about her favorite memories, her reply was, “I have many, but the ones that stand out are the ones that involve relationships with students built inside and outside the classroom. Letting them know I am not just a teacher, but a friend and am there if they need to talk or just need a hug. Those are precious memories that will always be part of me.”

Harlow says that in talking with her students, she hopes to leave them with an understanding: “You can be anything in this world if you put your mind to it and don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

Smiling as she addressed the crowd, Edwards told she had tried to get Harlow not to retire. “I have begged her throughout the year to stay!”

Then, Edwards said, “She will be missed, but she is about to go live the educator’s retirement dream with her sweet husband. I think she is ready to go put her toes in the sand.”