FLORENCE, S.C. – The name of the May teacher of the month will live on at Virtus Academy.
Marlene Evans, a longtime teacher in Marion County before she became a kindergarten teacher at Virtus Academy, died on Jan. 18 due to complications of COVID-19.
She was named Teacher of the Month for May.
Blake Pate, one of three local Chick-fil-A owners, and the Morning News presented the award to Evans’ husband, Carey, and her daughters, Ashleigh and Ryleigh, Thursday afternoon at the butterfly garden constructed by Evans’ class in her memory.
Carey said the award meant a lot to the family but especially to Ashleigh and Ryleigh.
“They grew up going to school, riding in the car with their mother,” Carey continued. “They’ve had a lot of time spent with their mother. We spent a lot of the time doing things to make memories.”
Ashleigh and Ryleigh, through tears, said they did not realize how much of an impact her mother made teaching until the family began to hear from her former students.
They joked that they were jealous of Marlene’s students because she would often stop movies to speak with parents and would do so until the parent had their questions answered.
Ashleigh and Ryleigh added that when voting opened for the award some of Marlene’s former students told them about the award and that they had voted for their mother.
Pate said it was pretty special to be able to honor Evans.
“Chick-fil-A claims to be the company that cares and one of the ways that we can show that we care is through things like this,” Pate said. He said his mother taught for several years so he knew that teachers needed recognition for their sacrifices.
Principal Brittany Hamilton said that the school uses project-based learning – learning centered on the completion of a project or goal that starts with a driving question – and that the garden was the class’s biggest project.
Kristin Morris, the teacher who replaced Evans, said the project was a team effort that required everyone to pull together.
“Even these little ones [her kindergarten class came outside for a photo], from shoveling the mulch to laying out the stones, each one of these little ones had a part in it,” Morris said.
Hamilton added that the class found a bird had moved into the garden and had built a nest. She said the class nicknamed the bird “Marlene” in honor of their late teacher.
“After her passing, there was such an outpouring from everyone in the community,” Carey said. “People you didn’t even know contributed to fundraisers. Thank you seems like such a small [group of] words for everything that we’ve received. It was a real blessing.”