Huntsville Teacher Earns National Recognition, Makes State History

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- The Huntsville City School System has someone among their ranks to be very proud of.  A local high school instructor made state history last month as the first African-American woman in Alabama to be presented a presidential award from the National Science Foundation.

The 2009-2010 Huntsville City Schools teacher of the year has added another feather to her cap, this time, on the national stage. Huntsville High School teacher Chanda Davis may have come into this world facing what many may consider an uphill battle, but she's parlayed those struggles into a passion that touches dozens of students each year. She was selected to receive a prestigious science award by President Obama himself, but like most incredible educators you'll come across, she gives all the credit to her students and to one committed mentor she says never gave up on her.

"I was born in Philadelphia, my mother was a heroin addict, the state took me away from her and I was put in foster care and a great-aunt and uncle adopted me."

Born addicted to drugs, passed around to foster homes and finally taken in by relatives at age four, Chanda Davis began as the antithesis of the model student. Plaguing behavioral problems early on in school saw Davis uprooted and sent to yet another family home in Tuskegee, Alabama at age thirteen. It was over a game of spades that her great-aunt Dora noticed not only did Chanda not have a grasp of basic arithmetic, but that she was essentially illiterate to boot. But Davis says great-aunt Dora saw potential.

"I stayed there with aunt Dora eighth grade year and basically she got me proficient, I went into algebra in eighth grade and probably stayed up until two or three o'clock every morning studying and she was right there with me," recalls Davis gratefully.

Davis says her aunt Dora, a university instructor herself proved to be troubled young girl's saving grace.

"That's where I got my confidence," smiles Davis, "and it took one person for me to be here today and I think teaching for me is such a blessing because it is a ministry because I'm able to hopefully do for others what my aunt did for me."

Chanda's ministry helped earn her national recognition for the 2011 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. By the side of Davis and her three children when she traveled to Washington, D.C. in June to accept her award?

"To me it was a gift that I gave back to her just to say thank you for caring."

None other than aunt Dora, the woman she credits for changing her life.

"When we drove into Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue tears just started rolling, I could not control my emotions, just to think, here I am, left in a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, put in foster care, always basically told 'oh, she'll amount to nothing'--and it took that one person for me who was right there with me to celebrate this award? I mean to think, me?! It was absolutely amazing," Davis says.

A 2005 car accident that left Davis' pelvis broken in five places created another road block. She was told by doctors she would never walk again. She says the thought of not being able to teach, to show, to tell--broke her heart, but she got up yet again.

"And I promised God, if you let me walk I promise you I will make the classroom your ministry and that day I released all fear. Many people do not pursue their dreams because they're afraid of failure...the only thing you can tell me is 'no', the only thing I can do is trip and fall, the only thing I can do is embarrass myself, I've done that before, it's nothing new. If you try, you never know what will happen."

Mrs. Chanda Davis says that is her  message to those who wish to foster her brand of passion and commitment in themselves.

"Never have fear," she says, "just pursue it and you never know what will come out of it."

Chanda Davis will be recognized at Thursday night's Huntsville City Council meeting by Mayor Tommy Battle.

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