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For UCES students and teacher, Cox more than ‘No. 1 pencil sharpener’

For UCES students and teacher, Cox more than ‘No. 1 pencil sharpener’

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 11:23 pm
By: Glenda Caudle, Special Features Editor

By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
He calls himself the “No. 1 Pencil Sharpener,” but he has other titles as well.
Third-graders in Andrelle Burrus’ class at Union City Elementary School call him “Granddaddy.”
Mrs. Burrus refers to him as her “extra pair of hands.”
To folks outside the Union City School System, however, he is Mr. David Cox — husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, retired Goodyear employee and amateur photographer.
Among those folks are his wife, Mary, who still is employed at Goodyear; six daughters — Tabitha Moore of Nashville, Brandy Powell of Jackson, Franchessca Cox and April Cox, both of Union City, Latoya Bryson of Humboldt and Sherry Miller of Memphis; his son, Jontez Dennis of Union City; 12 grandchildren, including the four who live with the Coxes — 5-month-old Kingston Boykin; Union City High School junior Antonio Cox, Union City Middle School sixth-grader Japril Hegler and UCES third-grader Aziah Nunley; and a great-grandchild.
It is Aziah who is responsible for Cox’s “second life” at the elementary school.
It all started when Aziah was a second-grade student in Sharon Barnes’ class. His grandfather volunteered to read to the children who shared classroom space with Aziah once or twice a week. And as the little boy moved up to another wing in the school and another grade on his march to a diploma, Cox moved up as well. On registration day for the 2009-10 school year, Cox approached his grandson’s new teacher, veteran educator Andrelle Burrus, and offered his services.
“I quickly put him to work,” Mrs. Burrus recalls. “It is difficult to meet every need of every student in the classroom each day. Teachers need many hands, for two are not ever quite enough.”
As the school year got under way, Cox showed up at 8 a.m. daily. To make sure students had no excuse for avoiding putting pencil to paper, he volunteered to sharpen the writing implements and have them in good working order. Then as the various learning “centers” in the classroom welcomed the third-graders, Aziah’s grandfather moved from work space to work space, making sure that students not only understood what they were supposed to be doing but that they stayed on task. His areas of expertise soon encompassed math, English and computers.
“The most challenging thing was reacquainting myself with the English language and the proper way to speak the language and working with the various parts of speech. I told Mrs. Burrus, ‘I’m not as smart as a third-grader,’” Cox says with a laugh.
But Mrs. Burrus begged to disagree. And she used the 90 minutes or so Cox spent in her class each day to good effect, frequently following up pencil sharpening duty and centers work with one-on-one reading time.
“The kids could choose books from their reading levels — some were up to a fourth-grade level and some were having trouble getting to third. I tried to help them all out. Mrs. Burrus would always have the centers ready for the students to go to work first thing, with some doing math and some writing and some spelling and reading with computers. Her Tornado Times Web site would always show what they should be working on. I guess that became my favorite thing to do — working with the students on their computers. I felt like it helped them and it helped me, too,” Cox says.
As the year has moved on, Cox has had to change his schedule to accommodate other commitments and a new business venture, but “Granddaddy” still comes to school Wednesdays and helps make learning an adventure. “It’s challenging. It’s fun. The kids always have something funny to say. They all call me ‘Granddaddy’ and when I see them at Walmart, they run up to me and say, ‘Hey, Granddaddy!’ It gives their parents a start, but then I get to talk to them, too. I enjoy it all,” Cox says.
The “Burrus Bunch” third-graders have some things to say about “Granddaddy,” too.
• “Granddaddy is a good man. He brings snacks and helps us with centers,” says A’zaria Pitts.
• “I like when Granddaddy comes and helps us with our work. He helps us with centers. He is a good helper,” says Martha Ochoa.
• “Granddaddy helps me a lot. He has helped Mrs. Burrus and has checked my papers at centers. He is also a great role model for us all,” says Brad Schlager.
• “Granddaddy helps all of us do our work. He sometimes buys us snacks for in the morning. Granddaddy encourages people and I think that’s sweet,” says Meg Kizer.
• “Granddaddy is so helpful. He comes in every morning. He comes in the classroom and helps Mrs. Burrus with centers. When I need help on my English, he helps me. We couldn’t live the whole world without granddaddy,” says Chuck Phillips.
• “Granddaddy is really nice to everybody. He helps everyone on the computers. And he helps with everything in the classroom. He loves us and we love him. He is part of the family. He is my role model,” says Madison Jeffries.
Mrs. Burrus adds, “The time he is investing in the lives of my students is not only helping them experience success, but it is teaching them all just what it means to be a community helper.”
As for Cox, he regrets that his time is no longer as intensive as it has been in the past with the students, but he treasures the bond he has formed with his grandson’s classmates and says he has a new understanding of the work teachers do.
“When I first stated coming to the school, I was under the impression that teaching was an easy job. It is not. Teachers have their work cut out for them every single day. You have to love it to stay in that profession. They do it because they love it and they love the kids, but it is a challenge every day and I see how hard it is.” Challenges recognized. Challenges met.
Granddaddy Cox and the Burrus Bunch have experienced them both in a unique way that will mark their lives forever.
Published in The Messenger 4.14.10

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