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Adult Educator of the Year

Adult Educator of the Year

The Adult Educator of the Year award honors an educator, paid or volunteer, who makes significant contributions to the work of Adult Education in Middle Tennessee. Past honorees include ESL teachers, High School Equivalency instructors, and financial counselors. Through exceptional dedication and innovation, our city’s adult educators foster the English language, basic literacy, and life skills learners need to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Please direct any questions about the award to Casey Miller at

Nominate an Educator

Nominations for 2020 are open from Nov 8 - Dec 13, 2019. Nominate an Educator

Nominations for Adult Educator of the year typically open in late fall. Sign up for the Adult Literacy Newsletter and get notified when submissions open, along with other news and tips about Adult Education.

Past Recipients

Picture of Judy with Mayor David Briley

Judy Rye, 2019 Adult Educator of the Year

As Director of Adult Education at the Martha O'Bryan Center, Judy Rye "never stops asking how we can do better". Her passion and dedication impact the learners enrolled in her program, her agency, and the greater adult education community.

Rye's nominators shared that "[her] innovation becomes most apparent when she is rethinking systems and re-imagining the program so that it best benefits the student. Those who work with her are stunned that someone with so many years of experience is also so willing to change and explore new ideas."

Under Rye's leadership, every adult education student is given a customized online learning plan and curriculum, restoring each individual's control over their education. In addition, Rye has partnered with other adult education organizations to provide the adult learners of East Nashville with a convenient place to study in the program that best fits their needs and goals.

In the words of her colleagues, Judy Rye's "creativity on behalf of her students' education is stunning and inspires all of us".

Picture of Cheryl with Award Certificate

Cheryl Hadley, 2018 Adult Educator of the Year

Cheryl Hadley has been a pioneer in the Nashville ESL community for seventeen years.

According to her nominators at Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC), Hadley "is one of those rare individuals who is [sic] both truly selfless and professionally exceptional." If you walk into Hadley’s classroom, "you will see her radiating warmth, joyfulness, and understanding and her students reflecting these qualities back."

Hadley once drove to Memphis with a student for her naturalization test. When NALC experienced a reduction in funding, she offered to take a pay cut and raised money for student scholarships.

In response to long waiting lists, Cheryl Hadley developed the Start Now program at NALC which provided students with services while they were waiting to be matched with a tutor. The Start Now Program was awarded the 2008 Frist Foundation Award of Achievement for Innovation in Action.

Picture of Robbie Hunter, award recipient, with Kent Oliver, Megan Godbey, and Congressman Jim Cooper

Robbie Hunter, 2017 Adult Educator of the Year

Robbie Hunter is a teacher and tutor with the Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC), Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) and Workforce Essentials.

Hunter’s nominators and the selection panel praised her dedication to helping immigrant learners understand math concepts and translate those concepts into skills needed to gain high school equivalency certification and workforce skills. Her unique position as an employee of three agencies allowed her to build bridges between them which resulted in better service for her students and greater success along their learning pathways.

In their nomination, Hunter’s colleagues at Workforce Essentials noted how her ability to communicate complex mathematical ideas effectively had earned her the nickname of "Math Jedi."

As Adult Educator of the Year, Robbie Hunter represented Nashville’s adult education community in a special audience with Representative Jim Cooper.

Picture of Stephen Edwards, award recipient, with Kent Oliver, Teri Hughes, and other adult educators

Stephen Edwards, 2016 Adult Educator of the Year

Stephen Edwards served as World Relief Nashville's Adult Education Coordinator.

In this role, Edwards went above and beyond to meet the needs of his students, both inside and outside of the classroom. He gained his TESOL certification in order to master best practices and, drawing on his past experience living abroad, created a more comprehensive and relevant cultural orientation curriculum.

Known for building deep relationships, Edwards became such a key part of one family’s integration into the United States that they named their baby after him. According to his nominators at World Relief, Edwards is not only "a great educator but also a great mentor, coworker, and friend."

Shortly after receiving this recognition, Edwards relocated to Greece to lend his talents to an initiative which addresses the migrant crisis in that country.

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