A picture of four smiling people standing outside, shoulder to shoulder.

Tammy Camel, right, sponsors the Rockcastle County High School Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), seen here on a trip to Washington, D.C. with FCCLA students. Attending the trip were, from left, Cameron Brown, Kira Owens, Hope Clontz and Tammy Camel. This picture was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo submitted by Tammy Camel

Growing up in Rockcastle County, teaching was never something Tammy Camel thought she would want to do.

Now, she’s the winner of the 2021 National ACTE Carl Perkins Community Service Award for her work as a family and consumer sciences teacher at her alma mater, Rockcastle County High School (RCHS).

“I think we all just want to change the world or make our mark,” said Camel.

After graduating from RCHS, Camel studied child and family studies at Berea College, during which she had an internship at a homeless shelter in New York. After graduation from college, she returned to her hometown to work at a homeless shelter and later, a domestic violence shelter.

Through her position as the outreach coordinator for the domestic violence shelter, she began going into schools to lead domestic violence awareness trainings, where she often found herself in the family and consumer sciences classroom. Camel said she began to wonder, “Why am I not doing this every day?”

Camel decided to get her master’s of arts in teaching from Eastern Kentucky University, and as she says, “The rest is history!”

She originally was drawn to the career and technical education (CTE) field in 8th grade, when her social studies teacher invited a social worker as a guest speaker. She said that day was a turning point for her.

“I thought, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do,’” Camel said. “‘I want to help people.’”

When she later began working at homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, she started to notice a difference between working with adults and working with children.

“The adults that I worked with, most of the time, weren’t ready or willing to make a change to make improvements to their situation,” said Camel. “But the kids that I worked with, I felt like, were the areas where I could make the most difference.” Upon completion of Camel’s CTE pathway courses in family and consumer sciences, students have received the preparation needed to enter their chosen field.

Often, employers in the childcare industry must pay for certain trainings their employees are required to have. However, in Camel’s program, students graduate with a Commonwealth Child Care Credential, Pediatric Abusive Head Trauma training, and Early Care Orientation training. All these certifications are required of those who work with young children, And Camel said the certifications help her students stand out.

“A lot of the childcare providers in the county will even call when they have an opening,” she said.

Through the CTE pathways, Rockcastle County High School provides many work-based learning opportunities for students, including observing a classroom and creating curriculum for children of various ages.

“In career and technical education (CTE), we want to prepare our students to enter the workforce and for postsecondary opportunities in that career field,” said Camel.

A group photo of a class of students gathered around a table that contains filled fabric bags.

Tammy Camel, at left in the middle row, connects her class and FCCLA students to the community through service projects. This project involved her students putting together personal care bags for children entering the foster care system. This picture was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo submitted by Tammy Camel

Through Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), an intra-curricular student organization that Camel sponsors at RCHS, students have the opportunity for additional work-based learning opportunities, such as hosting a reading enrichment program for 1st- and 2nd-graders at Mt. Vernon Elementary School (Rockcastle County). Students plan and carry out the lessons themselves for six weeks during the fall semester.

Students in Camel’s program also receive an internship at a local childcare business where students can earn high school credit.

“Those students are probably getting the most significant work-based learning opportunities,” she said.

Camel said her favorite part of her job is building relationships with her students and giving them opportunities they may not have outside of the classroom or FCCLA.

“It opens up an opportunity for kids that they may have never known was possible before,” she said. “Career and technical education really gives a lot of students their ‘why.’”

Since many of the CTE opportunities that are typically offered involve plenty of in-person collaboration, the COVID-19 pandemic affected how Camel safely provided those opportunities to students during the 2020-21 school year. While FCCLA still was offered to students, many meetings and projects took place virtually. Camel’s chapter was able to offer students free membership this year, as well as virtual work-based opportunities.

“I think it’s kind of ironic to be getting all of this recognition during the pandemic when I feel like I’m probably struggling the most as a teacher,” Camel said. “It’s certainly been a challenging year.”

Camel feels honored to receive the award, although she gives credit to her peers.

“I am the teacher I am today because of the influence of those teachers around me,” she said.

Camel’s success comes from her passion for showing her students the importance of serving others early on.

“I think that if we want to change the world, we’ve got to work with young people,” said Camel.