It’s hard to keep a secret from Betty Lou McCray-Wells.
The 43-year veteran educator is the first teacher on campus every morning at Bear Lakes Middle School, and she makes it her job to stay two steps ahead of the rest of the school, Principal Kirk Howell said.
But the West Palm Beach middle school still managed a surprise when it dedicated its media center to Wells on Monday.
“Everybody knew? Everybody knew!” Wells kept saying as the school’s band met her at the entrance of the school to escort her to the ceremony. Wells danced along with the music, tearing up at times and smiling broadly.
“Oh my god, this is the best!” she said.
Monday’s scene was an all-too-rare opportunity to recognize an outstanding educator in the community, Howell said.
“Our occupation is difficult,” Howell said. “This is an occupation that impacts and changes people’s lives. The stress that goes along with it, it’s pretty tough.”
Howell said that, often, outstanding people are only honored after they have passed away or retired from a job. He wanted to see Wells recognized now.
“(She’s) one of the greatest individuals, one of our most influential individuals, on this campus,” Howell said.
Wells, 68, began teaching in 1971 at Military Trail Elementary. She came to Bear Lakes Middle in 1989, according to a district spokeswoman.
A West Palm Beach native who graduated from Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach, Wells said she had a passion for teaching.
“My grandmother told me I was supposed to be a nurse,” Wells told the assembled group. “When I saw the phlebotomist working, I changed my career.”
Several of Wells’ colleagues, classmates and friends attended Monday’s event, as did West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent and school board members Marcia Andrews and Chuck Shaw.
“You think about how many thousands of lives she’s touched,” Gent said. “This is a wonderful tribute to her. (We don’t do things like this) often enough.”
Wells said her advice to fellow teachers is to not get too caught up with the problems in education.
“Keep that vigor, that vivaciousness inside,” Wells said, “that goal to see a child succeed. You never fail until you stop trying.”