Former students gather to thank SPED teachers for all those times

Published 10:03 am Friday, November 7, 2014

Thirsala Wiggins, left, with Jacquelin Bly and Cindy Lumpkin. Lumpkin is the founder of Triumph In Life, which sponsored the Bly/Triumph awards for special education teachers and students. Wiggins received this year’s scholarship. -- CAIN MADDEN | THE TIDEWATER NEWS

Thirsala Wiggins, left, with Jacquelin Bly and Cindy Lumpkin. Lumpkin is the founder of Triumph In Life, which sponsored the Bly/Triumph awards for special education teachers and students. Wiggins received this year’s scholarship. — CAIN MADDEN | THE TIDEWATER NEWS

Back in the 1980s, a second-grade girl named Trina Stout was put in a special education class at Hunterdale Elementary School.

“My mom says I was like a worm in hot ashes,” Stout said. “I do remember being very active and easily distracted. I was one of those kids that sharpened my pencil, got a drink of water, then went to the bathroom and repeated that pattern until the teachers asked me to sit down!”

It wasn’t always easy, but one thing made it better.

“I know a person with learning disabilities carries around a lot of shame and disappointment,” Stout said. “I saw the disappointment in my parents’ faces after every Parent-Teacher conference. I heard the name-calling. Some of my fellow students would even ask me, ‘Why do you have to go to that class for dummies?’

“Those kind of comments can really tear down one’s self esteem, but in Mrs. Bly’s classroom I was safe from the bullying. I was respected as a student and accepted as a person.”

Stout said she isn’t sure how Jacquelin Bly finally taught her how to read or how she turned it around as a math student, but she did know that her special education teacher made her feel better inside.

“While I was in Mrs. Bly’s self-contained classroom, I did not need to use those avoidance behaviors because she took the time to teach me how to read,” Stout said. “She actually asked me how I got my answers to my math problems. In those one-on-one times with her, I felt much admiration for this lady.

“She was more than just a teacher to me. She loved me and I loved her.”

Now, Stout is a special education teacher herself at Carrsville Elementary, and she’s also been the school’s Teacher of the Year.

Jacquelin Bly hadn’t been in the classroom since 1996. On Thursday night, she was awed that many of her former students still remembered her.

“I am amazed,” she said. “It has been so long. I am just honored. I am speechless, though if my husband heard me saying that, he would say it’s the first time.”

Scott Culpepper was in Bly’s class during the mid-1980s.

“I thought she was a very good influence,” he said. “She took a lot of time to do one-on-one instruction. I just thought she was great.”

Jo Culpepper was an instructor at the school when Bly was a teacher in the Southampton County Public Schools. She said one of the things Bly did was have them do a performance of “The Shoemaker and The Elves,” while Scott was there, and he played the Shoemaker.

“Well, I remember being really nervous,” Scott said. “But it was a fun time.”

Bly also taught Cindy Lumpkin, who founded Triumph In Life, the organization that sought to honor special education teachers this past Thursday.

Eight teachers were awarded the Bly/Triumph Excellence in Teaching Award for making a difference in the lives of those with learning differences. From Southampton County, they were Cadance Tyner, Tora Sweat, Sandra Lindsey and Amesheia Warren; from Isle of Wight County, Trina Stout was honored; and from Franklin, Chiquita Seaborn, Monica Bowles and Orline Turner were honored.

“The whole purpose was basically to bring awareness about learning differences, and then to acknowledge those educators who make the difference in their lives,” Lumpkin said.

That night, they also honored Bly.

“I hope that just recognizing her for all that she has done during her career for students; I hope this event was just a small way to let her know that her love for students with learning differences has made in the lives in her students,” Lumpkin said. “I hope other teachers can take her lead in going beyond to help those with learning differences.”

Meherrin Elementary had three teachers being honored that night, and Principal Tasha Ricks was there for it.

“I think it is an outstanding event to honor teachers,” she said. “It takes a special teacher to do what they do, and I am honored to be here.”

The organization also gives out a scholarship every year. The first winner, James Jervey, was there on Thursday.

“We were all very humbled and honored for the scholarship,” Jervey’s mom, Glenda said, and James added: “It was good. I used the money for books in college, and it was a big help.”

This year, the honoree is Thirsala Wiggins, who attends Chowan University and is majoring in arts.

“Receiving the scholarship was a blessing,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins also had a lot of her artwork on hand there for a showing, and it was a little bit of everything — sketches, paintings, sculptures and pottery. She also was able to sell some of her work and make a little bit of money.

“I am really happy to have had so much support at the event,” she said. “It was a real surprise.

“I am just hands on,” she continued about art. “Whatever I can get my hands on, whatever I see, I want to try and get it out. I like a little bit of everything in art.”

Wiggins has dyslexia, and she said that turns what would be 2-3 hours of reading assignments into a full day of reading. But, she is not going to let it stop her, as she’d like to get her Master’s of Fine Arts.

“I’d like to do a little bit of both,” Wiggins said of teaching and working as an artist. “I’d like to have my own art studio, but I’m thinking of getting into teaching as well.”

Curtis Loftis is one of her former teachers at Chowan, where he is an associate professor of graphic design.

“Her work is really refreshing,” Loftis said. “It all depends on what she wants to do. Whatever it is, she will be great at it. Certainly, you can see that she has a love for pottery, and I don’t think it will be long until we see her at all of the art galleries in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.”

Wiggins blogs about her work at

Lumpkin also wanted to thank Franklin High School Principal Travis Felts for providing a place where they could honor the special education teachers.

“To allow us to come in and have an event like that at his school; that, to me, shows his dedication to seeing every student learn to their potential,” she said.

This event is something she is hoping to make an annual event. Previously, it had just been about the scholarship.

For more information about Triumph In Life, you can contact Lumpkin at or by visiting

She said that they are still taking donations to make Wiggins’ scholarship greater than $500.