When Jennifer Turpin, a kindergarten teacher at West Elementary school, spoke of being a good citizen during an acceptance speech for a teaching award she had just won, she referenced an incident involving one of her students — a foreign-born one — returning home from abroad.

After being away for a month to celebrate Thanksgiving, upon her return, the student got upset because of language barriers, Turpin said. But according to Turpin, before she even had a chance to try and alleviate her student’s concerns, the student’s classmates rushed in and took action.

“My girls kind of pushed me out of the way and took over and helped her get settled in,” Turpin recalled.

Turpin attributed her students’ actions to civic education.

“They’re learning how to be good people because of the (citizenship) that we teach at school,” she said.

The incident, in part, reflects why Turpin, along with Molly Bexten and Dan Campbell, were chosen as three Jefferson City K-12 teachers to be nominated and win the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award.

Turpin, Bexten and Campbell, each amassing more than 20 years of teaching experience under their belts, were recognized Sunday for promoting civic education and patriotism in their schools in a ceremony that took place at the local VFW post in Jefferson City.

“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today to honor three of our outstanding teachers,” said Charlotte Dudenhoeffer, a former teacher, post auxiliary member and program chair who hosted the event. “I have to honestly say it does my heart good knowing that I was once in the classroom … but being able to pass on some honors really does do that warming thing in your heart.”

To be eligible for the award, K-12 teachers must be licensed or certified and whose class curriculum focuses on civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism, according to Veterans of Foreign Wars. Judging is based on four main criteria, including citizenship, innovation, resources and passion.

Turpin, who’s been teaching kindergarten for 28 years, was nominated by retired teacher Linda Eisinger. In her nomination letter, Eisinger noted Turpin’s commitment to teaching civic education, patriotism and good citizenship to her students. She pointed out one of Turpin’s class projects during COVID-19 in which Turpin provided supplies for her students to assemble a flag and an Uncle Sam paper plate for Memorial Day. The project has since become a yearly tradition, Eisinger wrote.

Turpin and Bexten were each presented with an award certificate, a box of candy and a $250 check by post commander Scott Englund. Campbell was not present at the event.

“It was a big honor to hear that I had won this award,” Turpin said. “The children need to know what their country stands for and who built our country.”

To present Bexten, two of her students, eighth-grader Eric Altheuser and his sister, sixth-grader Sydney, read from a letter they submitted for her nomination.

“Mrs. Bexten cares deeply about America,” Eric read. “She promotes patriotism by encouraging students to volunteer for veteran projects.”

“Mrs. Bexten has helped us honor veterans and their sacrifices,” Sydney read.

Bexten teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Immaculate Conception School. She’s been a teacher for the past 22 years.

“It makes me feel good that my students nominated me so they can tell that I have a passion for our country,” Bexten said. “I wanna make sure that all my students are proud to be here.”

Bexten added she wants students to utilize their responsibilities as citizens of this country.

“I want our kids to be good citizens,” she said. “I want them to vote and to be involved and participate in all the things our country offers.”

Campbell, a longtime teacher at Helias Catholic High School, was head baseball coach from 1996-99 and head softball coach from 1998-2018.

“A pretty remarkable man,” Dudenhoeffer called him.

He will receive his certificate along with a box of candy and a $250 check at a later time, Dudenhoeffer said.

“Folks, that’s what teachers do, they make an impact on kids’ lives,” Dudenhoeffer said, speaking of the significance of the award. “And I think we’re very fortunate that we have had three fantastic people to represent VFW for this year.”

  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Scott Englund, commander of VFW Post 1003, presents West Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Turpin with an award and $250 check during a ceremony Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at the post lounge. Turpin was one of three Jefferson City teachers to receive the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award and the only educator at the elementary level.

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