Interviewed by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Tara Denevan of Oxford is the Mississippi Department of Education’s 2022 Mississippi Parent of the Year. Denevan and her hus-band Shane have been married 17 years and are the parents of Brody, 14, and Lyla, 10. An ardent advocate of public education, Denevan believes that showing children love and support is crucial to their having a positive learning experience.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you were named Parent of the Year?
A: We were actually traveling back from Disney on the day that I received the phone call... I was speechless. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am never short on words. I am just thankful that my family was present to share the moment with me.
Q: What made you such a staunch supporter of education?
A: My husband and I both come from families of hard workers. I was only the second person in my family, extended family included, to have graduated from college. I was determined as a child to do something that not many of my family members had accomplished. I fell in love with school at a very young age and that love of education is shared in my home today with my own children.
Q: What motivates you to also help other children in the community?
A: My children are and always will be my No. 1 priority, but there are many children in our district who come in a close second to them. I believe all children deserve a chance at education, a chance at friendships, a chance at being included. I started as a substitute teacher in our school district about five years ago. I got to know so many of the students and their stories. I don’t think people realize just how many students come to school each day looking for an escape from their home life. Some come in tired because they have no bed at home. Some come in hungry because their last meal was at school the previous day. Some come in dirty clothing because their mom works three jobs and didn’t make it to the laundromat. You can’t help but fall in love with them and do everything in your power to help them.
Q: Tell us about Charger Christmas Kids.
A: I started Charger Christmas Kids five years ago when a school counselor at my son’s school asked if I could help with a few gifts for a few students. I immediately reached out to my friends, and we were able to donate Christmas gifts for 11 children that first year. This past year, Charger Christmas Kids was able to help 317 students from 102 families. The year that Christmas Kids started, I had about 15 donors. This past year we had 280 donors. Charger Christmas Kids helps families with gifts, but it also gives many in our community a way to give back. This project is so dear to me because it’s Chargers helping Chargers.