Stefanie Cook received the honor of “Teacher of the Year” at Madison Elementary School. She cares for and coordinates scheduling for Barney Fife, the school’s facility dog. CONTRIBUTED

‘Teacher of the Year’ Stefanie Cook applies ‘helper mentality’

MADISON – Stefanie Cook believes every child deserves an advocate, and children are worthy of love and acceptance. Cook is the reigning “Teacher of the Year” at Madison Elementary School.

“Only when they feel loved can true learning begin. I also believe in the power of relationships. Every child deserves a caring relationship in their school. I work hard to make sure every child feels like he or she has someone they trust,” Cook said.

After completing her master’s degree in school counseling, Cook accepted the school counselor position at Madison Elementary in 2015. “I’ve been here since!”

Her current work has been her favorite job. “I’ve always had a ‘helper’ mentality. This role allows me to help my students, their parents and my teachers,” she said.

Her affiliation with Madison City Schools began in January 2008 as a special education aide at Heritage Elementary School. She then accepted a job at Patriot Academy (now The Academy at James Clemens) teaching English. “I worked with struggling teens and helped them love school again. It was here I discovered I wanted to go into school counseling,” Cook said.

After five years, she moved to Discovery Middle School to teach seventh-grade English.

At Madison Elementary, she sponsors “Hornets’ Nest Morning Show” and helps students with public speaking and gaining confidence. She shows the children the process so the broadcast is student-driven.

And then came Barnie, who Cook calls her “greatest success. I began the process for a facility dog in December 2018. With COVID-19 shutdown and change in superintendents, the (approval) stalled.”

In May 2022, “Barnie Fife” arrived on campus. “Barnie completely changed the dynamic of my school. I’m honestly not sure how I did my job without Barnie’s assistance,” Cook said.

Students are thrilled about Barnie and anticipate seeing him. Teachers can request a visit with Barnie so students can enjoy him in their classrooms. Barnie joins them in small group, assists students struggling with tests and plays fetch at recess.

“Barnie has really made a positive impact on our culture at MES. He has only been with us for a year, but he has done so much. I hope to see more dogs in our district,” Cook said.

Originally from Adamsville, Tenn., Cook moved to Madison in 2007. She attended University of North Alabama for a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and University of West Alabama for a master’s degree in school counseling. Currently, Cook is pursuing the Education Specialist degree in teacher leadership from UNA.

She and Justin Cook will celebrate 15 years of marriage this summer. He works as an Army Civilian for AAMCOM. Their daughters are Charli, a prospective seventh-grader at Discovery, and Carson, a prospective third-grader at Madison Elementary.

Stefanie’s years in high school band founded her strong belief in relationships. A flautist, she also played vibraphone in pit percussion.

“I marched with bass drum when I could and learned to play bass guitar in our jazz band. My senior year I became the field commander. It was amazing,” Stefanie said.

“Not only did I develop a love of music, but I saw the power of relationships. I’m happy to see my daughter Charli have these same feelings in Discovery Band, under direction of Jenney Merritt,” Stefanie said.

Stefanie has a love for cooking. “I could seriously spend all day cooking. Sundays, I spend cooking all day, making lunches, meal prep for the week. It’s my self-care. Some days, I just look at my pantry to see what I (can) make with what I have on hand,” she said.

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