Through the combination of what she treasures most in life - her love of teaching, her students and her dog Winifred - Grace Simmons hopes to inspire her students to pursue their dreams and accomplish lofty goals.
Simmons is working to do this by example, as she recently completed a big accomplishment of her own: publishing her first children’s book, which was inspired by her students and Winifred.
Simmons earned her bachelor’s degree at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, Texas, before earning her master’s of education at the University of Mississippi.
After that, she started her nearly 20-year career in teaching. Now, she is in her fourth year of teaching at Jackson Academy while also pursuing her doctoral degree in education.
While she is certified to teach three-year-olds through sixth grade, she has mainly worked with second through fifth grade students.
However, when Simmons was in college, she had a completely different career plan. In fact, she was an advertising major up until she took a course in children’s literature in her junior year of college.
“I had to read a series of children’s books and evaluate them, and I fell in love with the class,” Simmons said. Later in the semester, she called her parents to tell them she planned to change her major.
That children’s literature course may have been what led her to change her major, but it was actually a teacher when she was in elementary school who initially sparked, and later fostered, her love of reading and books from a young age.
With her own students at Jackson Academy, she has her fifth-grade students do a “writer’s workshop” each Wednesday.
“I usually give a topic or they can free-choice write,” she said. “So, one day I thought that I would write with them, because you want to practice what you’re teaching.”
She put pen to paper and what came out was a tale that not only showed her life both at home and in the classroom, but also gave Winifred a voice. And so, her book “Miss Grace and Winifred” began.
“I wrote a little bit, and the students liked it so much that they wanted me to write more and write more, and I ended up having a little book out of it,” she said.
“I just think there’s something magical about reading, and I think whatever age you are, you can enjoy a book,” Simmons added. “All age groups, all genres.”
Broadening her students’ interest in a variety of genres is something that Simmons takes seriously, as she views it is important for them to get an understanding of various works. She even plays a variety of music while they write for inspiration
She said it is particularly important to her to get her fifth-graders interested in reading.
“Hopefully I’m reading something they enjoy or inspires them to like a certain author or appreciate a certain author more,” she said.
While reading to her students, she uses different voices for each character to try to bring the book to life for them.
Her chapter book “Miss Grace and Winifred” is a work of fiction based on Simmons and her Pekingese dog, Winifred.
“I alternate chapters of me as a teacher and me as a parent of Winifred,” she said. “So, I alternate with you seeing me at school in one chapter, and you seeing me at home with Winifred. The whole process has been really fun.”
From the idea of the book all the way to the publishing of her story, Simmons said the process has been fun from start to finish.
The story is mostly true to life, as she pens what life with Winifred is like. Simmons said they often ride the golf cart around their neighborhood and make regular trips to the groomer, as Winifred’s hair requires maintenance.
“She never meets a stranger,” Simmons said of Winifred, who she describes as her “fur baby.” “I don’t spend much time without her.”
Now that she has completed the book, she said she intends to write another. However, she is uncertain whether it will be a sequel to “Miss Grace and Winifred” or if it will be something else entirely.
What she is certain about is that she hopes the fact that her students were along for the ride and got to see the writing and publishing experience from start to finish, that it will encourage them to go after a big dream that they have.
“I hope that it inspires them to appreciate writing,” Simmons said. “I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment.”