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Jim Brandenburg presents Jessie Jung with the award for 2012- 2013 Educator of the Year for Alachua Elementary.

ALACHUA - What started as an unplanned vacation became the start of a new life for Jessie Jung.

Jung, her husband and her 6-month-old daughter, Isabel, left for Niceville, Fla., in 2005 before Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf of Mexico and into their Mississippi town.

Eight years later, Jung received the Educator of the Year for Alachua Elementary on May 7 for the 2012- 2013 school year.

Jung, a third- and fourth- grade combo teacher for Alachua Elementary, can add the most recent honor with her Alachua County Teacher of the Year award, which she received in February.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Jung said. “Everyone has been warm, caring and supportive.”

The Bay St. Louis, Miss., native says her family was fortunate to have relocated to her in-laws’ house before the hurricane damaged her own home.

Her Mississippi home was the place she felt close to. It was the place where she left the journal she wrote during her pregnancy to give to her daughter when she was older. It was the place where nearly 6 feet of water flooded their second floor apartment, and could no longer be called home.

“Losing the journal in the flood was the hardest thing to lose,” Jung said.

The things they packed were a few belongings and the most important pictures they had.

The rest of the stuff she could live without, she said.

They were left with no furniture—only a few pots and pans. They had one mattress for her and her child to sleep on while slowly adjusting to life after Katrina.

Through it all, she said she learned what is important in life.

She began her teaching career in Gulfport, Miss. After Katrina, she taught in Lawton M. Chiles Elementary in Gainesville for one year and is currently finishing her seventh year teaching at Alachua Elementary.

“I always loved working with kids,” Jung said. “I like making a huge impact in someone’s life. To watch someone grow before your eyes and be a part of their future is very rewarding.”

She teaches her students to be good, successful students and people. She said she finds it rewarding to show a student that he or she is valuable.

Those qualities are what helped in the selection process for the awards she received.

The same made her unique to Jim Brandenburg, former principal of Alachua Elementary, when he hired her.

Brandenburg’s wife, Mary, who taught with Jung at Lawton M. Chiles Elementary, recommended Jung for her standout qualities after having just survived the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

One of the things that impressed Mary Brandenburg was her positive outlook after the tragedy forced major changes in her life. When Alachua had an opening, Brandenburg capitalized it.

“Great teaching is not what they do, but being a teacher is who they are,” Brandenburg said. “That was very obvious through Jessie.”

He said during his time as principal she reveled in being a part of a larger faculty. She was PTA representative for the faculty and the first volunteer for everything.

Eva Copeland, currently in her second year as principal of Alachua Elementary, described Jung in the same light.

She said Jung has all the qualities of a teacher who is passionate, has a big heart for children and teaches academics and life skills among other things deserving for those awards.

“She never likes to be the center of attention,” Copeland said. “She feels that she is just a part of a bigger team.”

She described Jung as a team player and very passionate about helping students to be successful in all areas.

“Her kids were always engaged in something important and useful,” Brandenburg said. “That means they’re learning.”

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