Critical reading teacher Christy Owen encourages students to be life-long readers. Photo by Jennifer Christman Cia
Category: Features

Lauren Dorman and Christy Owen named Arkansas Rural Teachers of the Year

This is an education story, so first, a quick history lesson: The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas have sponsored the Arkansas Rural Education Association’s Teachers of the Year awards since 2004.

“The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas appreciate all of the educators in Arkansas and their tireless dedication to our state’s children,” says Director of Corporate Communications Rob Roedel. “We began sponsoring the Rural Teacher of the Year award to spotlight the great educators across rural Arkansas. The Rural Teacher of the Year recipients this year, as they are each year, are shining examples of the great educators that we have in our state.”

Nominations are vetted by the state’s 15 educational cooperatives, which submit finalists to the association for consideration; a panel selects two winners.

This year, the association named Lauren Dorman of Rector Elementary School and Christy Owen of Magnolia High School as Arkansas Rural Teachers of the Year.

They received crystal apple awards and checks for $1,000 from the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.


Lauren Dorman

Lauren Dorman of Rector Elementary School in Clay County is one of the Arkansas Rural Teachers of the Year. Photo by Jennifer Christman Cia

Rector Elementary School, Clay County

As a student, the idea of Lauren Dorman one day becoming a math coach didn’t add up.

“I was the kid in school that said I couldn’t do math,” she says with a laugh. “I was the one who struggled with it.”

Dorman, a Harrisburg native who was always active in band, actually started her Arkansas State University (A-State) schooling as a music major before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She’d later earn her master’s degree in education (curriculum and instruction) from A-State.

A teacher of 11 years, she worked at Cross County Elementary in Cherry Valley for five years before coming to Rector Elementary in 2017.

While she still loves music, Dorman says education fulfills her true passion and purpose — service.

She says, “I just like to help people,” whether that’s young people, older people (she was once a Certified Nursing Assistant) or her fellow teachers.

Which is why Dorman, a classroom teacher until this year, is excited about her new role as math coach.

“Any students who are struggling to master a certain skill, I’ll work with them in grades third through sixth. Or our students who show that they need more support on their standardized tests or their screenings, that’s who I work with. And then the coaching part is working with the teachers. … I’m supporting the students and the teachers.”

Math coach Lauren Dorman uses positive words of encouragement to build confidence in her students. Photo by Jennifer Christman Cia

When Dorman says the students and teachers at rural Rector Elementary are like family, she means it. After all, her husband, Robert, is the school’s baseball coach. And one of her three children, Lilly, attends Rector Elementary; her other two children, preschoolers Brooks and Laney, likely will when they’re old enough.

Because Dorman wrestled with math, she can better relate to and counsel confused students.

“It’s telling them, ‘You can do it! Look, you did it! Great job!’ For a lot of them, that is what they need; they need their confidence built. … I’m able to show them, ‘OK, I can see where you’re struggling. I can see the breakdown that’s happening. Let’s build up the conceptual understanding.’”

As for how she wants her students to remember her, Dorman says, “The most important thing is that they just feel loved and validated and worthy. And if I can give them some of the life skills that they need also, I feel pretty good about that.

“But I want them to think of me as someone who loved them and cared.”

Christy Owen

Magnolia High School, Columbia County

Christy Owen of Magnolia High School in Columbia County is one of the Arkansas Rural Teachers of the Year. Photo by Jennifer Christman Cia

Education is in the blood of Christy Owen, critical reading teacher at Magnolia High School.

“My aunt was a teacher,” she says. “I feel like I grew up in a teaching home, so that’s how I got into it. She was my teacher as well. I played teacher when I was a kid,” growing up in her native town of Coal Hill.

Owen earned a bachelor’s degree in English education and speech from Arkansas Tech University and a master’s degree in education (gifted, talented and creative) from A-State.

“English always came easily to me,” Owen says. “And then there are so many things that you can do with English. I’ve taught English; I’ve taught speech; I’ve taught debate; I’ve had theater classes.“ Entering her 19th year in education — and her fourth year at Magnolia High School — Owen taught previously at Dardanelle, Lamar and Emerson high schools, as well as Westside Elementary and a pre-school.

As a critical reading teacher for ninth and 10th grades, she works with students needing more individual attention.

Critical reading teacher Christy Owen encourages students to be life-long readers. Photo by Jennifer Christman Cia

“They keep my classes at 15, and it gives me time to really get to work one-on-one with the kids,’” she says. “I’m trying to let them see that reading is a life skill. It’s not just something we do in school. Every year that I have taught this class, I have kids who will say, ‘I can’t wait to get out of school so I don’t have to read anymore.’ They only associate reading with schoolwork. This year, we’re actively working on getting community members into this class to tell them about how their reading translates to adulthood.”

One way that Owen supports her students is with her “comfy corner,” a relaxing nook with a soft couch, where students can chill when they finish their assignments. “It’s a reward area I use as an incentive to ‘Get your work done.’”

Other happies that Owen provides are “fidgety things.” Students are welcome to tinker with toys like Rubik’s Connector Snakes puzzles or decks of cards.

“They keep those hands busy, and it helps stabilize them,” she says. “It doesn’t bother me at all, as long as they’re listening and it helps them focus.”

In her free time, Owen, who is married to Pastor Ron Owen, likes to spend time with her family and their Antioch East Baptist Church family. Their son, Adrian, and daughter-in-law, Melody, live in Columbus, Nebraska. And their daughter, Allison, is majoring in elementary education at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

Just like Owen, it seems her daughter has education in her blood, too.