MICHIGAN CITY — “Education is the way, education is the key,” is a personal motto that Peggy Thomas lives by.

She brought her passion for education to Michigan City after graduating from college in 1980 and has been here ever since. Now in the 33rd year of her career in education, the 2013-2014 is the second year that Thomas will serve as the principal of Edgewood Elementary School.

“Michigan City chose me,” she said. “But Michigan City has given me so much. I met and married my wonderful husband, Donnie Thomas – who is my biggest cheerleader – and two great kids … They both received a great education here at City. Most of all, Michigan City has provided me with a job that I love and was born to do.”

Thomas got her start in education as a cadet teacher while in high school. “I did (my cadet teaching) in a special education facility and knew that was what I wanted to do,” Thomas said. She began her career Niemann Elementary School as a special education teacher with mildly mentally handicapped students.

Raised by her grandmother and oldest sister, Thomas said that, even though they were poor, her family always held education to a high regard. Now with her own family, Thomas still values education, teaching her two children that “it’s not a question of if you’re going to school, it’s which college you will be going to.”

“I just love education,” she said. “Education is the way and education is the key to a better life is a philosophy that has been ingrained in me since day one.”

Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Eduction Mildly Mentally Handicapped from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s degree in Special Education Learning Disability K-12 from Indiana University at South Bend. She also obtained a general education license from Valparaiso University and a principal license from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Throughout her career, Thomas has served as an educator at Niemann, Joy, Pine, Edgewood and Lake Hills elementary schools. She also spent a year working as a visiting urban teacher collaborator at Valparaiso University.

She chose to teach at the elementary level because, at that age, children are still impressionable, she said. “They truly love to learn.  They’re just big sponges.”

N-D: What are some of the biggest challenges facing schools today?

Thomas: A challenge for public schools is the whole perception that public schools aren’t up to par. I disagree with that. Not only are we up to par, but we are excelling in many different areas. My personal kids went all the way through public school. (Public schools) are being asked to do more with less and our children are coming to us needing many different kinds of supports. We embrace that. We see education as the way, we see education as the key. Here at Edgewood, I think we truly start with teaching our kids to believe — believe that you can be anything you want to be. Our whole thing is think, dream, believe and achieve and we truly embrace that. In public education, we don’t turn anyone away. We believe that we can help everyone.

N-D: If you could send one message to the youth of Michigan City, what would it be?

Thomas: Take your education seriously. Many people have fought, cried and died for your right to sit in that chair and get an education. There is nothing that you can do for yourself more than get a good education because they can’t take that from you. It teaches you how to be a better person.

N-D: Who inspires you and why?

Thomas: The two people who have inspired me to get to where I am right now are my grandmother and my oldest sister. My mother died when I was two weeks old, so the two of them together raised us with such a strong belief system and that’s the reason why I’m here right now. It’s not about how much money you make, it’s not about who you are or what your title is. It’s about who you are as a person and that’s what I strive to be every day – the best person I can be.

N-D: If you could meet one person in history, who would it be and why?

Thomas: I would really like to have lunch with Maya Angelou. I love words and she has words that truly inspire you. Her words are so true, like when she says, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” She has many, many motivational quotes that I live by. My favorite is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will never forget how you made them feel.”

N-D: What is something about yourself that might surprise people?

Thomas: Something that people may be surprised to know about me is I like to sing, but can’t carry a tune even if you gave me a bucket.

N-D: In your words, why is celebrating Black History Month important?

Thomas: Because it’s still necessary. For me, history needs to be taught from many different perspectives and that just does not happen. Until it happens, we have to be sure that we celebrate the accomplishments of such a great people. But my dream and hope is that we get to the point that black history is embedded or braided within the American history. It’s like saying, “we’re going to talk about presidents, but we have to wait for February to talk about Barack Obama.

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