Trinina Pouncy’s students know where her heart is, and they love her for it, said Ruth Doyle Middle School Principal Debi Avra.

Pouncy, a middle school Alternative Learning Environment teacher, was selected first by her peers to represent Ruth Doyle Middle School and then by a committee to represent the Conway School District in the Arkansas Teacher of the Year competition, a part of the National Teacher of the Year program.

"She has a heart for her kids, but she doesn’t let them off the hook. They respect her because they know where her heart is," said Avra.

Pouncy learned of the selection last week, she said, when district and school administrators surprised her with the announcement in front of her class.

Avra said she had a feeling Pouncy, who has been teaching for just three years, would be chosen to represent the district.

"She is wise beyond her years. This is her third year but you’d never know, and it’s because of her life experiences," Avra said.

Avra said before Pouncy came to Ruth Doyle Middle School one year ago, she had her eye on her.

"We wanted her," Avra said.

Pouncy was an ALE teacher at Carl Stuart Middle School before the district’s grades were restructured. Alternative learning for middle-schoolers is now at the Ruth Doyle campus.

Before she began teaching in Conway, Pouncy was a captain in the Army National Guard.

Her last position in 11 years of military service was as a military training officer.

"Yeah, I can handle it," she said of teaching middle-schoolers.

"That’s what gets people. When they see my short stature, they ask me if I’m OK teaching middle school ALE. They get rowdy, but I can get them on track easily," Pouncy said.

As the school day was winding down Tuesday in the last week of school before summer break, about a dozen of her students were playing a learning game together. Students who went out of turn or didn’t play by the rules did not receive a point.

The last week of school is an easier-going, more relaxed time for most students, but Pouncy said her classroom must stay structured.

She said her students, about 21 of them, are those middle-schoolers who have been placed in the program because they’ve struggled in a typical classroom setting due to learning, emotional and behavioral challenges.

Pouncy said she thinks she was chosen by peers and the committee because of the compassion she "can’t help but have" for ALE students.

"A lot of people have written off ALE kids. I won’t. They still have a future, and we can still shape and mold them and teach them right from wrong," she said. "I haven’t given up on them."

Pouncy said her students are ones who have been called "at risk youth."

"The reason I’m passionate about them is because I guess I was one," she said.

She said she had a bad attitude and suffered in school. Her first child was born when Pouncy was 17.

"People wrote me off. They thought I was done for," she said. "I overcame that and I want the same for my students."

Pouncy’s classroom differs from others on campus because she and her students spend most of the school day together while other students rotate classes.

"We make the best of being in here all day together. Because we’re together, we form a family where everyone has a role," she said.

Avra said Pouncy is integral to the success of the district’s ALE program.

"Just watching what she has done with the program makes me proud to have them on campus," Avra said. "I’ve seen the program elsewhere, and I haven’t seen the success like I have with this one."

Of Pouncy’s title, Conway Superintendent Dr. Greg Murry said, "Trinina is an outstanding teacher who will represent all of our teaching staff well as Teacher of the Year for 2013-14. Her passion for her students shows through in everything that she does. She is more than capable of bringing out the best in her students, and that is evidenced through the great strides she has made with some very challenging students. We are extremely proud of her and her work."

Pouncy said her goal is to see her students succeed.

"Every teacher has their own philosophy for teaching. Mine is: Failure is not an option."

Pouncy teaches fifth- through eighth-graders literacy and social studies.

Kathy Powers, a teacher at Conway’s Raymond and Phyllis Simon Middle School, was selected as Arkansas’ Teacher of the Year in 2010. Her tenure was July 2011-July 2012.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)