Dana Gepford - Whitesides Elementary School
Retirement only lasted a year for veteran educator Dana Gepford who started her career with Charleston County School District (CCSD) at Midland Park Elementary School, where she spent 21 years. Gepford rounded out her career at Whitesides Elementary School after an additional 13 years.
The pull to be back in the school building was too strong to ignore and before long, Gepford was back as a long-term substitute teacher in her former classroom.
“Something made me want to get back to work,” said Gepford. “I also have a grandson at Whitesides so I knew I wanted to stay here. I have always had wonderful teacher assistants and I thought that may be an option for me.”
Gepford is in her third year as a Child Development Teacher Assistant. She works with the same team she previously served with; she already knows the curriculum and she loves what she does.
That’s a winning combination for the four-year-olds at Whitesides, according to Principal Cathie Middleton.
“She is kind, loving, and can always be counted on to do her best and be the first to volunteer if we need anything done,” said Middleton. “She always goes above and beyond and is a huge team player.”
“Cathie Middleton knows exactly what she wants and I appreciate that kind of leadership,” said Gepford. “I am a rule follower, so I enjoy knowing what is expected and getting the job done correctly. More importantly, I enjoy working with Mrs. Middleton. Being a family-first-oriented administrator, Mrs. Middleton understands the challenges of being an educator, spouse, mother, and grandmother. She is always supportive when family issues occur.”
The 2009-2010 Whitesides Teacher of the Year (and CCSD Teacher of the Year semifinalist) almost studied to become a physical therapist, at the urging of her father. While her father encouraged her to be a physical therapist or nurse, her brother encouraged her to follow her dreams of becoming a teacher. She entered the workforce upon graduation and ultimately earned her Master’s in Reading while juggling work and family.
“I am so glad I did,” said Gepford. “The younger children are like sponges. They absorb and hear everything and they are so loving and sweet.”
There are 15 students in the class, taught by Chantelle Connolly. At this age, the students are learning problem-solving and social and emotional skills and steps. Child Development students attend school all day and adhere to a structured classroom environment like their older peers.
“Mrs. Connolly is an amazing teacher,” said Gepford. “She is so calm and knows how to handle the children when they are upset. She corrects them in a positive way, and she makes learning fun. I’ve personally enjoyed working with her and learning from her.”
Connolly describes Gepford as a dream to work with.
“Not only does she have so many years of experience as a classroom teacher, but she is caring and dedicated to the profession,” said Connolly. “Her positivity even in the most trying times is impossible not to catch! She embodies our Sunshine Hall where our classroom is along with other CD, Kindergarten, and Special Ed classes. We call it the Sunshine Hall because the walls are yellow and it helps our young students find and remember where we are. It also is a reflection of the sunny dispositions of our teachers our youngest wildcats.”
Gepford said teaching has changed through the years thanks to improved technology. She said, even at the young age of four, the students are proficient in the computer lab and know how to operate the Promethean Board.
Gepford’s role as an assistant is to prepare the students for lessons, work with students who may need extra help, and most recently (even though it is only April), help a few students start to draft their Christmas lists.
“I love watching the growth of four-year-olds,” said Gepford. “I work hard to meet the needs of our students and their families.”
Connolly said the students adore Gepford because they know she takes an interest in their lives and will do anything to help them succeed in class while having fun.
“She doesn't just care while they are with us, she continues to care and check in with them for years to come,” explained Connolly. “Parents love her because she communicates a true concern for and love of their children. She always goes above and beyond and I am beyond fortunate to have had the opportunity to call her a colleague as well as a friend. To say I hit the ‘assistant jackpot’ would be an understatement. You will never meet a more caring individual than Dana Gepford.”
Gepford compares Midland Park to Whitesides, where she met her husband Doug who was the school psychologist there. Doug, also a selfless leader, served as a principal and an area superintendent among other jobs within CCSD.
“I consider everyone here at Whitesides to be one big family,” said Gepford. “The PTA and the parents work together with the teachers and staff to create a community atmosphere that is welcoming and inviting.”
Gepford also describes Whitesides as a collaborative school where teachers work together on many things so students look forward to learning.
“I have loved my career and I am glad my brother encouraged me to pursue education,” said Gepford. “I’m also glad I made the leap to Charleston, where I’ve been able to work with some of the best educators in the business.”