In the 21 years she’s worked as a custodian for Columbus Municipal School District, Cynthia Lewis never expected to be chosen as one of the district’s “heroes.”
She certainly didn’t expect to be treated to dinner and a complimentary overnight stay at a local hotel as a thank you for her service.
“This is the biggest and most exciting (award I’ve ever received),” she said as she sat in a corner booth at Hyatt Place Friday night with fellow custodian Savannah Monroe, who started working for the district this year.
Lewis and Monroe were two of 25 area school employees — including teachers, secretaries and custodians — chosen by their principals or superintendents to receive a free room at the hotel off Highway 45 North. Sales manager Tressa Black said hotel staff reached out to administrators from 28 public and private schools in Lowndes County asking them to nominate staff members to receive a “School Hero Award.” Those nominees and their families got to spend Friday night in the hotel.
“We were going to do principals and just give them a complimentary room for the night,” Black said. “But we got to brainstorming. There are so many unsung heroes. Most of these are custodial people, cafeteria workers, people who would not normally … be able to come to a hotel and be appreciated. So it’s really worked out.”
Black added that hotels are usually at their emptiest at the end of the year, making it an ideal time to host the school employees.
Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright said the administration was extremely grateful for the employees’ recognition, adding it’s always good for them to receive recognition.
“To have a chance to get away like that, like a short vacation, that’s just awesome,” he said. “… It’s great to know that they have the support, that education has the support of local business and industries.”
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat agreed.
“We are very grateful to have the Hyatt recognize our employees,” she said in a message to The Dispatch. “The relationships we continue to … build have made a positive impact on our employees. They feel valued and appreciated for the work they do to support children.”
The hotel held a reception Friday night for the employees and their families, including food donated by nearby restaurants.
West Lowndes Elementary fifth grade teacher Tammara Buchanan, who stayed the night with her husband and 9-year-old son, called it a “little vacation away from the house.”
“I’ve never been to this hotel before even though it’s right here in Columbus,” she said. “It’s nice to get away from the house because we really didn’t plan on going anywhere for the Christmas holidays.”
Still, she said, her favorite thing about being a teacher isn’t the recognition she receives. It’s the impact she has on her students.
“Sometimes at first it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, am I getting through?'” she said. “And then seeing their progress: It’s heaven.”
Likewise, Lewis and Monroe said they like seeing the students every day at work. Monroe just began working at Columbus Success Academy, the district’s alternative school at the campus that was formerly Hunt Intermediate School, after several years of working at East Mississippi Community College.
“In college, we don’t associate with the kids too much,” she said. “You just go about your day.”
That’s not the case with schools for younger students, she said.
“You see them every day,” Monroe said.
Lewis also just started working at Columbus Middle School after 20 years at Stokes-Beard Academy. Now she likes seeing some of the same students she knew when they were younger, as if she’s watching them grow up. Since they know her, she often receives hugs and greetings of “Hey Miss Lewis” when she goes to work.
“Some of them call me ‘mom,'” she said.
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