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MRS WESTLEY 40 YEARS

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In August 1975, Gayle Moore-Westley began her career as a social studies teacher at Montegut Middle School. 
Her 40-year journey has educated and inspired thousands of children in Terrebonne Parish. The Vacherie native is just as passionate now as she was in year one.
Education, as it turns out, is in Moore-Westley’s blood. Her grandfather was Abraham Moore, president of the Terrebonne Colored Public School Club in 1930, which fought for better educational opportunities for African-American students. 
“My grandfather recognized the importance of an education, even though he didn’t have a formal one,” Moore-Westley said. 
His efforts with then Terrebonne school Superintendent H.L. Bourgeois helped lead to the Southside Elementary School, on the land now occupied by the Houma Police Department. Southside Elementary was the first school for African American students in Terrebonne, predating Southdown High, now Southdown Elementary.
Upon walking into Moore-Westley’s class you notice that taped to the back of every desk is the message “Greatness is Expected.” Her desire to set high expectations was passed down by her parents.
“They taught me that I had basic rights as any human being and that every child deserved a future where dreams can become a reality,” she said.
Moore-Westley attended St. Lucy’s before graduating from Vandebilt Catholic High in 1969. Of all the subjects she studied, social studies captured her young mind more than the rest. She recalls Sister Mary Gerard’s seventh-grade U.S. history class.
“She was a very tough social studies teacher and I studied and studied and through that, I developed a love for history,” she said. “It was the telling of stories and also the emphasis my family, especially my grandfather, put on education. It just inspired me.“
Before heading to Xavier University, where she would major in secondary education with an emphasis in social studies, Moore-Westley earned a chance to study abroad for the summer at Oxford University. In England, she studied history and literature. Moore-Westley became the first person in her family to graduate from college. 
After student teaching in New Orleans, Moore-Westley returned to Houma and started her career at Montegut Middle School. Despite living in Houma, Moore-Westley has made the trip down the bayou faithfully for four decades because she loves the community.
“It’s like they are a family,” she said. “They have that sense that they want their children to be more and to have that opportunity they didn’t have.“
Her focus since day one has been to tell young people the story of this great country and help them see that they are a part of history.
“America’s young people are our greatest hope. It’s important that I instill in my students the understanding that each of them has an important contribution to make,” she said.
“As a social studies teacher, I want them to know the history. I want them to know that we are making history now,” she added.
One of her famous class projects is the “Keepin It Alive” program, paid for through a grant from the state education department, where students bring in parents and grandparents to give oral histories. She is also famous for wearing costumes to class to help the students understand the day’s lesson. To expand her students’ minds she regularly brings in guest speakers and her classroom is decorated with artifacts from the past. 
Moore-Westley offers some advice to new teachers:
“The key is to make that connection with the students. Once you make that connection you won’t have as many problems.” 
She urges teachers to be creative. 
“Many students come in hating social studies. Teachers have to find creative ways to get them involved. They have to become part of the event. You have to make history come alive. Children need motivation and inspiration. Learning needs to be exciting,” she said.
Over the years Moore-Westley has won numerous awards. She was the 2007 Inspirational Teacher of the Year for Terrebonne and also received the V.F.W. Boquet-Breaux Post 7755 National Citizenship Educational Teacher award. She also earned a summer internship in Washington, D.C., under then Sen. John Breaux. 
Her passion for education has helped Terrebonne Parish School District with recruiting. She is teaching alongside six former students. Others teach and have taught in and around Terrebonne Parish. If she has to make a phone call home on a student there is a good chance that she not only taught the student’s parents but also their grandparents.
“I have been moved by her endless times by the compassion and respect she shows for every individual that stands before her. She is humble and wants no credit for the years she has devoted to the children of Terrebonne Parish,” said Kim Vauclin, former principal of Montegut Middle. 
Over the years she has also given her time to tutor students, sponsor student organizations and help students give back to the community through service projects. She is actively involved in her church and continues her charity work there. She has also been featured as a guest columnist for The Courier where she has written educational pieces. 
In a thick green folder, she keeps pictures and mementos of students who placed in everything from the Social Studies Fair to the National Geographic Geography Bee.
“Fame and fortune are not the greatest pleasures in the world for me. When students come back and tell me how I’ve influenced their lives, that is the greatest hour of my life,” she said.
Asked what keeps her going after forty years, the answer was simple: love.
“It’s the love of education, the love of getting up every morning and coming to school. I love Montegut Middle School, the students, faculty, and community,” she said.