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The Hearts of Hamilton

Featured Photo from The Hearts of Hamilton

With more than 100 years of combined education experience, these three original Hamilton Elementary teachers reflect on 35 years of history at the iconic Sanford school

On Hamilton Elementary’s History Wall, framed photos and news articles tell the story of the school’s namesake family: the husband-and-wife pair of William and Aleatha Hamilton, veteran educators in Seminole County who left a profound legacy in their wake. But theirs aren’t the only photos on the wall. Joining the Hamiltons are a trio of incredible leading ladies, longtime teachers Ginger Brumley, Linda Crawford, and Phyllis Thrift, who have been fixtures on campus since its opening in 1984. They, too, are leaving a legacy that will be felt for generations to come.

“These teachers are truly master educators who have honed their craft,” says Kay Boehart, the school’s family liaison. “They have been an integral part of Hamilton’s history and have had a great impact on our students’ learning. They’ve been at it for so long, they’re like child whisperers. They deserve this recognition, and we are so grateful for their continuous service at Hamilton.”

Located on the corner of Mellonville and Celery avenues in Sanford, Hamilton Elementary was built to replace Sanford Grammar, Hopper, and South Side elementary schools.

“There was still construction going on when we all started, so in a way, we basically came with the building,” jokes kindergarten teacher Ginger Brumley, who recalls navigating the campus before some of the school’s walkways were poured with concrete.

“My wing didn’t have a certificate of occupancy yet, so some of the classes were combined, and we were so far away from the lunch room, we had to have lunch brought to us,” recalls recently retired Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teacher Phyllis Thrift with a chuckle. “It was interesting, but the job got done, and we had fun!”

“Hamilton has evolved numerous times,” adds reading coach Linda Crawford. “I think what we all love most is the fact that every day is a fresh day, every day is different.”

After 35 years of working side-by-side in various capacities, teaching some of the same students at different grade levels, and learning from one another, Ginger, Phyllis, and Linda share their personal stories and reflect on their fondest memories at Hamilton Elementary.

Mrs. Phyllis Thrift

Having just retired after 39 years in the classroom, Phyllis still holds a little memento close to her heart – her first paycheck stub as a full-time teacher. During her first year, she made a whopping $9,000. Though today it may not seem like much, that humble paycheck is a testament to Phyllis’s devotion to her evolving profession.

She began her career as a paraprofessional before becoming a kindergarten teacher. In her last few years, Phyllis received her certification in special education and worked as an ESE teacher, helping children with varying disabilities.

“Teaching gives us the opportunity to get to know some special little and big people as well as have adventures on our days and weeks off,” Phyllis wrote in her retirement letter. “To me, teaching is at the top of the list of all professions. If you think about it, every person who has ever walked on this earth or will walk on it had a teacher.”

A two-time Teacher of the Year, Phyllis always put her students first by making after-school tutoring part of her weekly routine.
“I’ve always loved my work, and I woke up every morning happy to get my day started,” says Phyllis. “I’m very tolerant and believe in staying calm, instilling discipline, and most importantly, listening to the kids. It’s simple: just listen and love. The kids know when you’re doing those things.”

Outside of the classroom, Phyllis ran Hamilton’s SECME [engineering] Club for several years and helped her fourth- and fifth-grade students win competitions at the regional and national levels. She also found unique ways to supplement her teaching income by taking on side jobs such as a soda jerk, forklift driver, swimming instructor, and hydraulic tube technician, among others. An adventurer at heart, Phyllis always made sure to continue her own education and exploration over the years. She attended clown college, learned to ride a motorcycle and scuba dive, and drove to the West Coast before the advent of cellphones.

“I’ve still got both my license to motorbike and to dive, so I plan to keep going in retirement,” says Phyllis, who foresees more adventures on the road with her husband. “I’m thankful for it all.”

Ms. Ginger Brumley

When Ginger began her career, she taught third, fourth, and fifth grade before finding her true calling as a kindergarten teacher.

“I had children who didn’t know the alphabet,” Ginger recalls. “Many of my kids were dealing with generational poverty or issues at home and needed a lot of love and support. I knew I had to go back to basics in what I felt was the most important grade – kindergarten. It can make or break a child’s love of learning, and I wanted to give them a good impression.”

This school year marks Ginger’s 40-year anniversary with Seminole County Public Schools, 35 years of which have been spent in her original kindergarten classroom from the first day Hamilton opened its doors. In the early days, Ginger, a three-time Teacher of the Year, managed a classroom of 36 students – double the amount of students in her classroom today. 

Some of her fondest memories are the one-of-a-kind gifts from her students, like a half-eaten roll of Ritz crackers, used salt and pepper shakers, or her personal favorite, a pair of bright red undies snatched from somebody’s clothesline and wrapped in a lunch bag.

“The gifts were crazy,” Ginger laughs, “but to me it showed that the children appreciated my teaching and caring for them.”
Ginger has taught her past students’ children and has also taught alongside her own former students, like Kayla Heflin, now a third-grade teacher at Hamilton.

“I know generations of families through my time at Hamilton,” says Ginger, who lives within a few miles of the school and whose family roots run deep in Seminole County. “Hamilton is home for me. It’s where I’m needed, and everybody knows me around here. I can’t even go to the grocery store without someone yelling ‘Hey, Ms. Brumley!’ Sometimes, it’s almost scary, because kids change so much physically and then they come back to say hi and you don’t recognize them!”

Ginger remembers a time about 15 years ago when one of her more troublesome students came back to visit her with the good news that he was in nursing school.

“He said, ‘I’m gonna be something because of you, Ms. Brumley,’ and he gave me a big bear hug,” Ginger recalls. “Let me tell you something, I used to get that little boy to behave by promising to take him to my brother’s football games at Crooms, which I did. It’s moments like this which are my biggest joy.” 

And every moment matters in this vocation, says Ginger, who keeps a watchful eye on her young students in and out of the classroom. Even during lunch hour, Ginger sits with her  students to teach them proper manners and keep the positive rapport going.

“Lunchtime is actually when you find out all the dirt,” jokes Ginger. “I want to eat with them. I choose to eat with them when I don’t have to. I’ve even had to dislodge a few meatballs at times, but that’s what I’m here for!”

Ginger’s teaching style is one of persistence, patience, and perseverance. She models the behavior expected from her students, gets to the root of issues causing bad behavior or poor performance, sticks it out with her students until they understand a concept, and celebrates the small wins and fun teachable moments along the way.

“At the beginning of the year, I tell my kids that I have a gift that I’m gonna give them if they pay attention,” Ginger says. “Without this gift, they won’t be successful. It’s the gift of being able to read and write and spell. As the year goes by, you start to see those lightbulbs turn on after you’ve taught letters and sounds, and all of a sudden the kids are screaming, ‘I can read this book!’ It’s incredible.”

Looking ahead to her final year at Hamilton in 2020-21, Ginger will undoubtedly be sad to say goodbye.

“I’ve been the momma hen for so long, but it’s good to see new, young teachers coming in,” she says. “For all the newbies, I would say be firm, be fair, respect your students, and build trust with them. Just be their cheerleader. And, make sure you have your own bag of tricks!”

Mrs. Linda Crawford

As a young girl, Linda inhaled comic books and graphic novels, but little did she know that her love of books would translate into a career as a reading coach at Hamilton. 

“At 20 years old, I started out as a PE assistant because I hadn’t decided on my path yet, but the teachers encouraged me to go to college and get my degree in education,” says Linda. “They all saw something in me and wanted to help me grow. Teaching is my calling, and I’ve been very blessed to have found my passion.”

Linda, who is a product of Seminole County Public Schools, taught first and second grade before becoming the school’s primary reading coach. She has worked directly with small groups of students doing reading intervention and now works primarily with teachers and instructional coaches to provide guidance on reading strategies and lesson planning. Linda also spearheads the school’s morning Book Club, a no-pressure environment for students to read for fun.

“I make sure to respect my kids, their cultures, and their backgrounds, and be firm but kind,” says Linda, also a former Teacher of the Year. “I tell them that once they cross my threshold, they’re part of my family and my community, too. I’ll take my students from wherever they are. I love to see their eagerness to learn and answer questions and how they can just put themselves out there. I want them to see how reading opens up the world to them.”

Linda has also worked side-by-side with both Ginger and Phyllis and found immense support, mentorship, and inspiration from their teaching styles.

“Phyllis is so patient and consistent,” Linda says. “She can make a connection with any child. Ginger teaches her heart out and never gives up on a student. They are remarkable teachers who have touched my life and guided me throughout my career. Hamilton has my heart. It is a place where I am able to promote literacy with students by teaching them to read and love text. I believe in them. They are readers; they are mathematicians; they can be anything they want to be.”

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