Gracie Bullington Recognized as the App State Student Teacher of the Year

Gracie Bullington was named the Appalachian State University Student Teacher of the Year for the 2023-2024 academic year. Bullington, originally from Mount Airy, North Carolina, completed her Bachelor of Science in history/social studies education in December 2023.

 Presenting the Student Teacher of the Year Award

“I never imagined that I would earn the recognition of being App State's Student Teacher of the Year,” said Bullington. “I have received the most amazing support from peers, family, professors, and teachers that has led me to this point.” 

“Most importantly, I am grateful to all of the students who I have had and will have the privilege to teach for reminding me why I chose this career,” she added. “Student teaching challenged me in new ways and the lessons I learned will continue to shape me into the best educator I can be!"

“Gracie Bullington is deeply committed to a career in history/social studies education,” said Dr. Rwany Sibaja, associate professor in the Department of History and program director of the history/social studies program. “In and out of the classroom, she has represented our department with aplomb, engaging with teacher colleagues, students, and families.” 

“Her clinical educator, RCOE supervisor, and academic content consultant were unanimous in praising Gracie for her preparedness and creativity,” he continued. “Her classroom was well organized, student-centered, well planned, and full of warmth and humor. It was evident to all how committed Gracie is to mastering the craft of teaching.” 

He added, “As a historian, she gets students of all levels to think historically by engaging with a variety of sources with multiple learning approaches. In Gracie’s classes, students don’t just hear about history, they do history.” 

 Gracie Bullington

For as long as Bullington can remember, her dream has been to become a teacher. 

“It was not until my junior year of high school that I knew I wanted to teach high school social studies,” she recounted. “I had an excellent teacher who not only made history exciting but also supported me during some of the hardest months of my personal life.” 

“While I do love history, it is the relationships with students and helping them succeed in life that I look forward to most,” said Bullington. “Thankfully, my App State professors have done a wonderful job of showing me how to do that by creating engaging lesson plans and making history more relevant to students' lives.” 

Bullington chose to study at App State because she felt the university would provide her with the best support to become a teacher. “When I visited campus in the early months of 2020, I heard so many great things about the history education program and knew that was exactly where I needed to be.” 

“I feel so honored to be recognized by App State for the work and love I poured into my students and school during student teaching,” said Bullington. “I am thankful to all of my university supervisors, professors, clinical educator, and family who have supported me during my journey and who continue to root for me as I pursue this career. I couldn't have done it without them!” 

As an undergraduate, Bullington took advantage of the Accelerated Master’s program at App State. She is currently completing her Master of Arts in history with a concentration in teaching and substitute teaching for Watauga County Schools. 

Bullington will represent Appalachian State University at the state level for the Student Teacher of the Year, which is offered by the North Carolina Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (NC-ACTE). The NC-ACTE winner will be announced at the organization’s annual fall meeting, September 18 - 20, 2024. This is the eighth year in a row that NC-ACTE will recognize an elite group of student teachers from each of its member institutions. 

Selection Process

Students are nominated by their clinical educators, University Field Supervisors, and faculty members based on their teaching, professionalism, and overall effectiveness in the classroom. Nominated students then submit a reflective narrative on their student teaching experience and three letters of recommendation. Finalists for each semester (fall and spring) are selected to compete for the top award. 

“I am so proud of all of our students,” said Dr. Alisha Ellis, Reich College of Education’s Director of Clinical Education. “They are transitioning from a student of teaching to a teacher of students.”

“I look forward to seeing all of their great accomplishments as educators,” she added.

Nine student teachers were named finalists for Appalachian State University’s Student Teacher of the Year Award. They were Gracie Bullington, Adam Caliri, Carmen Cerrito, Madison Goodwin, Nadine Jallal, Caroline Jenkins, Bryson May, Rylie Spencer, and Julienne Swaringen.


Adam Caliri

 Adam Caliri

Adam Caliri, from Aberdeen, North Carolina, is completing his Bachelor of Science in middle grades education with concentrations in language arts and social studies in May 2024.

App State was not initially on Caliri’s radar, but then he discovered how highly the university ranks for education, the various programs and clubs (such as A.C.E.S.) that were available to education scholars, and the fact that the school specifically had a middle school program. 

“Along with all of this, it was important to me that my college was close to nature and hiking trails, and calling the surrounding landscape gorgeous is an understatement,” he added. “As I did more research, my excitement to apply just continued to grow, until there was no doubt that I would chase any chance to be a Mountaineer.”

While working at scout camps, Caliri found he really enjoyed teaching. “I loved knowing that my participants left my lessons with just a little bit more than they came in with, but I found that I really enjoyed the relationships I could build with them.”

Caliri decided to pursue a degree in middle grades education because he “wanted to be able to give students who are often misunderstood the chance to build an important and impactful relationship.” 

“I’ll just be one of the dozens of teachers they’ll have in their lives, but my goal–my hope–is that the year they’re with me is one where they feel understood and experience a sense of security and connection,” he added.

For Caliri, being a finalist is a huge honor. “I never would’ve had this opportunity if not for my professors and my clinical educators, as these are the people who helped me grow and develop my teaching skills and my general teaching style.” 

“The honor of being chosen as a finalist for the student teacher of the year lets me know that the veteran educators who I respect and look up to see in me the ability to uplift students and create a positive, productive learning environment, and that’s an incredible feeling,” he added.

After graduation, Caliri is continuing his education at App State, pursuing a master's degree in English, teaching literature, and writing.

Carmen Cerrito

 Carmen Cerrito

Carmen Cerrito chose App State for its education program… “Plus, I love the mountains!”

From Hickory, North Carolina, Cerrito is completing her Bachelor of Science in mathematics education in May 2024.

“I have always loved mathematics, and I had a lot of bad experiences in math classes growing up,” said Cerrito. “I wanted to help students have good experiences, and I want them to love math just as much as me, if possible! Math is fun when you have the right teacher!”

“I am not a person that typically wins academic awards,” noted Cerrito. “All of my previous awards came from sports, so this means A LOT to me!” 

“I feel satisfied with my work as a teacher, and this accolade validates my capability as a teacher,” she added. “I was scared I would not be a good teacher, and this accomplishment proves I was wrong.”

After graduation, Cerrito is continuing her studies at App State, pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics with a concentration in teaching.

Madison Goodwin

 Madison Goodwin

Madison Goodwin, from Raleigh, North Carolina, graduated in December 2024 with her Bachelor of Science in elementary education. 

When Goodwin was applying to colleges, she looked for schools that saw teaching as a profession of lifelong learners. “App State stood out among other schools I applied to for that very reason.” 

“App State puts teachers first and sees the value in a community working together to support its next generation,” she added. “That is evident in the way that the Reich College of Education embeds field experiences, volunteer opportunities, and classroom clinicals.” 

“I continue to choose App State for my master’s degree because it is a place for cultivating lifelong teachers and learners that value growth and perseverance,” she noted.

Goodwin pursued elementary education because “I believe in knowing the foundations of education.”

“I see myself as an educator with a purpose,” she continued. “Helping students learn and grow, not for the satisfaction of test scores, but as a model for what it means to be a lifelong learner.” 

“My focus on English/language arts is rooted in my love for the physical book, but also for the analysis that comes from questioning what one may normally accept as fact,” she added. “Teaching is just as much about growth within ourselves as it is about supporting growth in our students. That is why I am an elementary teacher.”

For Goodwin, being named a finalist is an honor because of “the incredible legacy of educators stemming from App State.”

“As I reflect on my student teaching experience I can't help but grin ear to ear because of the way I got to learn alongside my second graders and see first-hand the impact that I can make working with students,” she noted.  

In addition to continuing her master’s degree in literacy education, Goodwin is employed at Hunter Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina, as a K-1 Instructional Support Specialist. 

Nadine Jallal

 Nadine Jallal

Nadine Jallal chose App State to step out of her comfort zone - both as a person and as a future educator. 

“I knew that I wanted to go into education, and I wanted to make sure the school I chose valued education as much as I did,” she noted. “Appalachian is, of course, the best school for teaching, and I felt I would be valued as an education major here.”

From Knightdale, North Carolina, Jallal is completing her Bachelor of Science in English education in May 2024.

She chose her degree program for multiple reasons. “First and foremost, I am a reader and a lifelong learner.” 

“As a lifelong learner, it only makes sense for me to build the next generation of lifelong learners,” Jallal continued. “I believe in the power of literature, specifically literature in secondary classrooms, and I want to do whatever I can to foster that belief in my students.”

Jallal is grateful for being nominated and named a finalist for the student teacher of the year. 

“There were moments in student teaching where I began to wonder if I was in the right place, but all it took was a student smiling at me to pull me back into my passion for education,” said Jallal. “Knowing that my experience this semester has been worthy of being a Student Teacher of the Year finalist solidifies my confidence that I am right where I need to be, and I know exactly where I need to go from here.”

Jallal has been hired at the school where she completed her student teaching - Enloe Magnet High School in Wake County Schools. “I am beyond excited and honored to officially join the team of teachers and students I have made a connection with this semester.”

Caroline Jenkins

 Caroline Jenkins

Caroline Jenkins, from Vale, North Carolina, graduated in December 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in English education.

She chose App State because of all the opportunities on campus for students. “At Appalachian, there was always something to do and to learn, and that's what I loved about my school!”

Jenkins initially enrolled as a creative writing major, but through an internship, she found the “magic of teaching”. 

“When I realized I could tell stories AND see the faces of my students light up when discussing the texts or when they wrote something they were proud of, I changed my major to English education immediately,” she recounted. “I adore teaching and getting students excited about literature and writing. I can not imagine doing anything else.”

For Jenkins, being named a finalist is a “win for the small-town communities” like hers. “I went to a very small school growing up with a surrounding stigma that ‘smart,’ ‘powerful,’ and ‘successful’ students did not come out of schools like mine,” she noted. “But, this is not true! As a teacher who plans to teach at a school in a small community, I want to break that stigma completely. Students CAN be smart, powerful, and successful no matter where they come from.”

Jenkins is currently in a long-term substitute position teaching English III and IV at Fred T. Foard High School, which is where she completed her student teaching. She is interviewing for full-time teaching positions in the fall. 

“I am so excited for where this career takes me!”

Bryson May

 Bryson May

For Bryson May, App State has always been like a second home.

“Both my mom and my dad attended App State, which allowed me the opportunity to frequently visit App and fall in love with the Mountaineer culture as a kid,” he said.

From Winston-Salem, North Carolina, May is graduating this spring with his Bachelor of Science in history/social studies education. 

He chose App State because he “knew that App State held one of the best Colleges of Education in the state, and knew that App State would help me pursue my passion of becoming a great educator!”

May chose to teach high school social studies because of the impact he could have on students. “The teachers who encouraged me to pursue a career in education and press into my desire to serve and teach were social studies teachers,” he noted. 

“I hope to have a similar impact on the students I teach in the future,” he added. “Not only do I have a deep love for history, but I also firmly believe that social studies is a vehicle through which students enhance their critical thinking, analysis skills, and ability to make connections and discoveries about their histories, cultures, and identities.”

For May, being named a finalist for student teacher of the year is “exceptionally humbling.”

“It is an honor that I could not have accomplished without all of the amazing educators, family, and friends who supported me along the way,” said May. “I believe that being a student teacher of the year finalist means not being afraid to take initiative in the classroom and in the community, representing all students well, creating an environment that is warm and welcoming for all students, and bringing a spirit of positivity and optimist into the classroom every day - it’s this type attitude that will truly impact students, teachers, and parents.”

After graduation, May will begin teaching in the social studies department and serving as an assistant coach for the men’s varsity soccer team at Ronald Reagan High School in Pfafftown, North Carolina. 

Rylie Spencer

 Rylie Spencer

Rylie Spencer, from Mooresville, North Carolina, is graduating in May 2024 with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education. 

Spencer always had a feeling she would attend App State. “After touring the beautiful campus, I knew it was the perfect place for me. I was drawn to the mountains and fell in love with the small downtown and welcoming atmosphere.”

Always wanting to work with children, Spencer initially thought about a degree in psychology. However, she soon realized that teaching was her true calling. 

“As soon as I began my education courses and had the opportunity to participate in some amazing discussions and internships, I knew that I had made the right choice,” she said. “The education program at App State is known for providing an exceptional education and experience for future teachers, and I can confidently say that it has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life.”

Being named a finalist for student teacher of the year meant the world to Spencer. “It reassures me that I am pursuing the career that I was meant for.” 

“I have put in a lot of effort during my internships, and I feel extremely grateful to be nominated,” she noted. “I appreciate all of my professors, mentors, supervisors, family, friends, and especially my amazing cooperating teacher, Marissa Ward, for supporting and believing in me.” 

She added, “Every day of student teaching has been an absolute joy, and it makes me very excited for the future!”

After graduating, Spencer plans to move to the south Charlotte area. She is currently in the process of applying and interviewing for elementary teaching positions. 

“I am extremely excited to have my own classroom and start my teaching journey in the fall!

Julienne Swaringen

 Julienne Swaringen

Julienne Swaringen knew she wanted to teach from a young age but was undecided on what to teach.

“I spoke with my advisor from the ACCESS Program, who helped lead me to art education to combine my love for art and my passion for teaching,” she recounted.

From Salisbury, North Carolina, Swaringen is graduating in May 2024 with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in art education.

“The Art Education Department at App State consists of wonderful individuals who have continuously supported me throughout my endeavors,” said Swaringen. “This degree program has the best team that ensures quality education and the utmost support of students.”

“I owe my success and ability to attend App State to the ACCESS scholarship program,” she noted. “Without this program, I would not be in the position that I am today.”

Being a finalist is an honor for Swaringen. “I am able to share my passion for teaching and my love for art in a way that I never thought would be possible.”

After graduation, Swaringen hopes to secure a job in or around the Rowan-Salisbury area. 

“Once settled, I plan to promote community involvement and a school environment that encourages artistic growth and celebrates the enrichment found within art,” she added.