Gena Churchwell

Hear Me Roar

PYHMR 1121

November 2021 Issue
Photography (above) by Mike Force Photography
Photography (right) by Gena Churchwell

Facilitating Friendships

Teacher at Glynn Academy (GA) and Founder of Glynn Academy’s Terror Buddies
Brunswick, GA

When and why did you start Terror Buddies?

We started Terror Buddies in 2014. I became aware of Glynn County’s Buddy Ball program and thought that bringing the concept of pairing students with special needs with typical students in the school environment would be great. At the time, we had just short of 30 students with special needs. We were hoping to get 30 typical students so everyone would have a new friend. Even that first year our Glynn Academy students rose to the occasion. We had over 90 students sign up to be a part of Terror Buddies. We have never had fewer than 100 students every year after that.

What brought you to Coastal Georgia?

Ours is a military family. We moved 16 times before we landed in the Golden Isles. We were in Miami in what we thought would be our last duty station when the Army, as it so often does, had a different plan. We received orders for Director of Training at the Signal School in Augusta, Georgia. The tour would mean two high schools for yet another of our four kids. We didn’t want to do that. Since we had vacationed in the area between assignments, we decided to move the family here, and my husband made the sacrifice to commute during the week to Augusta for three years. As a result, our two youngest children were able to attend one high school: Glynn Academy! Go Terrors!!

What have you learned from your students?PYHMR 1121 2

Joy, patience and determination. When you get right down to it, everybody just wants to be included: special and neurotypical students, adults and children, men and women. No matter how we divide ourselves, we all really want the same thing. Terror Buddies provides a safe space where everyone can be celebrated and included. The students in our room are nearly always in a great mood. Thanks to the other adults who call Room 7101 home: Brenda Haywood, Lori Jones, Amanda O’Brien and Richard Barron, we welcome not only students assigned to our classroom, but Terror Buddies, athletes and photography club students. The grown-up world is full of all kinds of people. We make sure that our room prepares our students for that.

What three words inspire you, and why?

Kindness, Respect and Pride. The song Anna Begins by Counting Crows includes the line: “The time when kindness falls like rain.” To imagine kindness that way is so powerful. Kindness can wash all negativity away, the same way rain can wash away dust and thirst. Respect is the cornerstone of our classroom. Everyone in GA 7101 truly believes all our students have a story and a background worthy of respect. We teach that earning the respect of others can be done by doing our best, communicating honestly and listening to others.  

The emotion I most enjoy seeing in young people is pride. I love seeing the excitement over learning a new academic skill, making a great tackle, scoring a goal, catching a pass, dancing with a friend, capturing a great picture, etc. When our GA students accomplish something, and they are bursting with pride, my heart just melts. My greatest pride lies in the family that my husband, Mark, and I have built. Despite the occasional difficulty, multiple moves and late nights, we have managed to raise some of the coolest, most resilient, independent, kind-hearted children the world has ever seen.  

What is the biggest barrier to friendship?

The biggest barrier to friendship is fear. Many people fear the unknown. They are hesitant to reach out to make new friends. That is not the mindset in a military family. There isn’t time to cultivate friendship over time in the military. Every time we moved, we knew we were part of something bigger than ourselves, and as soon as we unpacked the car, new friends would appear. Some would be friends for a tour, others for a lifetime. Our children became resilient with the regular loss of friends and familiarity, but they became more aware of how important it is to be the one to reach out to the new kids and help others make friends.

I’m Roaring about…

Glynn Academy! I have worked in schools all over the world, but never with such a dedicated staff, or in a community I loved as much. “Grow where you are planted” is a military spouse anthem. I have been allowed to grow here like never before. Our class is awesome, and Terror Buddies Club is kindness personified. I am also the academic coach for the Red Terror Football team. We offer tutoring, test preparation, academic counseling, mentoring and recruiting support for athletes across campus. I have watched more than 10 years worth of young people come into their own. Additionally, I can be found on the sidelines capturing games from that point of view. I love sharing the pictures with families and seeing them used as profile pics, tweets, Christmas cards and graduation announcements. Being a part of something bigger than myself was my favorite thing about our family’s time in the military. Being a part of both Glynn Academy’s rich tradition and it’s here-and-now feels like I’m still a part of something bigger than myself. It’s a good thing.

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