Smithfield Selma High Student Gabrielle Chestnut Receives $30,000 JoCo TEACH Scholarship 

SMITHFIELD – Gabrielle Chestnut, a senior at Smithfield-Selma High was awarded the Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) JoCo TEACH Scholarship. Chestnut received $30,000 to attend her college of choice through the JoCo TEACH program, offered exclusively at Smithfield-Selma High.

From left: JCPS Director of Talent Acquisition and Retention Maureen Hanahue, Johnston County Board of Education Chair Lyn Andrews, Gabrielle Chestnut, Smithfield-Selma High Principal Crystal Gregory, and Interim Chief of Human Resources Linda Edmundson gather around Chestnut in celebration of her scholarship.

Established in 2019, JoCo TEACH is a JCPS Choice Program designed to invest in and recruit students seeking a degree in education. It provides a seamless pathway for students to earn their Associate in Arts in Teacher Preparation through Johnston Community College (JCC), while attending a traditional public high school.

After graduating college, Chestnut will return to JCPS and teach for three years, a requirement of the program commitment. This ensures that JCPS brings the best and brightest educators back into the school district.

One of the primary benefits of the scholarship is that it alleviates some of the financial burdens of college. For Chestnut, it will allow her to participate in the UNCG Study Abroad program, where she will teach English to students in China for one semester. This will enhance her study of elementary education at UNCG. The program also has given Chestnut a head start on her college career because she will enter UNCG as a junior, thus saving additional money.

It was through the field experience of the JoCo TEACH program that Chestnut discovered her passion for teaching elementary children, specifically first graders. Her biggest takeaway from the JoCo TEACH program was the ability to take college-level courses. The rigorous curriculum developed her time management skills, discipline, and commitment to the program. Without it, Chestnut believes she would not be as prepared for college.

There have been several influential people who have been catalysts for her to seek a career in education. The first one is her mother, a school counselor at Archer Lodge Middle. Chestnut has seen firsthand the impact of education through her mother’s career. In addition, her mother has been there to support Chestnut every step of the way. “She’s been my cheerleader all my life,” she proudly said.

JCPS 2024 JoCo TEACH recipient and Smithfield-Selma High senior Gabrielle Chestnut proudly shows off her scholarship check. 

Another influence was Ms. Joyner, Chestnut’s second-grade teacher at River Dell Elementary. She had a huge impact on her and played a pivotal role in Chestnut’s decision to become an educator. “She made it seem so fun to teach the kids,” she said, “and her wisdom really stuck with me.”

Then, as she entered Smithfield-Selma High, another teacher inspired her during the four years of her high school career. That teacher is JoCo TEACH Coordinator Suzanne Sweat. “She’s given me a lot of encouragement and experience as a teacher,” Chestnut said. The curriculum is not easy, and Chestnut began high school during COVID which was especially challenging. Sweat kept encouraging her when she was ready to give up.

“Gabby demonstrates an exceptional ability to connect with students and inspire them to learn,” said Sweat. “During her sophomore year, Gabby worked throughout the school year with students in second grade as part of her field experience in Teacher Cadet. Gabby has a talent for making complex concepts simple and easy to understand, and she speaks to students with a soft and welcoming tone, which creates a positive learning environment. Gabby is going to make a great teacher, and we are excited to welcome her back to JCPS once she finishes her teaching degree.”

Ultimately, she will return to JCPS and spend three years molding the minds of the next generation, maybe even the next great educator. No matter where she is teaching, via China, JCPS, or another school district, Chestnut will share her love of learning. “I’m most excited about making bonds with my students and impacting their lives,” she said.


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