WINSTON-SALEM, NC (WGHP) — Debra Troxell loves teaching geography.

“It’s not just learning the places on the map. We have to know where the places are, but geography is so much more than that.”

She knows it can be fun and interesting. She has traveled the globe learning about foreign places, in order to bring stories back to her students.

“I love teaching. I love this school. I want them to have the best opportunity that they can have. And I think this class is a useful class for them.”

That’s why she goes all out when it comes to her students, like writing a grant in order to fund a giant map of Africa that students can walk on. It helps them to visualize the continent better. But she knows the future is technology: Geographical Information Systems.

“GIS sounds mysterious and difficult, but we use it all the time,” says Troxell. “So anytime you’ve gone online and found a map where you can turn on and off layers of data, that’s GIS. And what the way that we use GIS is to visually represent spatial data. So during the worst of COVID, when you’d go online and see where the hotspots were and see how many cases North Carolina had, and then you could change the level of data and see how many the county had, that’s all GIS.”

She says it brings maps to life.

“It solves problems because you can visually represent what would otherwise be a spreadsheet.”

According to Troxell, it is one of the top 10 growing fields for new job creation. That’s why she wants to expose her students to it more. In order to do that she applied for (and won!) a Governor’s Educator Discovery Award which allowed her to travel to the National Council for Geographic Education Annual Conference in Minneapolis where she could learn more innovative ways to teach about GIS.

“A lot of times the best resources are other teachers. So, some of the individual workshops I went to discuss strategies for kind of that next level of GIS in the classroom. But you get some more information over lunch.”

She believes in professional development and takes advantage of as many opportunities as she can.

 “I’m a lifelong learner and the more I know, the more I understand and the more I can help them learn. It also keeps me energized in education,” says Troxell. “I think that helps my students to know that I want to be here, that I want to learn. The professional development helps with that. I have had some amazing opportunities by being a social studies teacher that I can bring back into the classroom.”

She does everything she can to encourage and inspire her students.