Coastal Virginia’s Top Teachers

Third annual competition recognizes outstanding educators throughout our region

Inspiration is what poured off the pages of nominations we received this year for our third annual Top Teachers recognition program. More than 100 submissions and thousands of votes from students, their parents and staff members of inspirational teachers all across Coastal Virginia flooded our inboxes and filled our hearts with hope for the ambitious minds of the future. Read on to learn about the winning teachers who go above and beyond each day to enrich the lives of our region’s youth.


Name:
Brianna Treat

School:
Pembroke Meadows Elementary School,
Virginia Beach

Years as an educator:
13

Grades and subjects taught:
Special education, pre-Kindergarten–fifth grade; general education, third grade

Special recognitions/awards:
This is the first teaching award I have received. (I feel so honored to have been nominated and chosen!)

Why did you choose teaching as a career?
I’ve known since I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a teacher. Working with children and helping them learn new things has always been something I’ve wanted to do.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love to see the smile on a child’s face when he realizes he’s finally learned and understood a concept that he had been struggling with.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? In my years of teaching, I’ve come to understand that every child learns differently. A teacher needs to be ready to teach the same concept in several different ways at the same time in order to meet the needs of the entire class.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want all of my students to remember that they are important, unique, smart and beautiful individuals.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Several years ago, my grade level and I jumped on board with the Daily Five, a small group reading program developed by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser that helps students develop daily habits of reading and writing independently. Several other teachers began using the program the following year based on the success we had.

From her nomination: “Ms. Treat is lots of fun and has lots of patience with the class. She is my favorite teacher ever.” —Kaleigh Dean
 


Name:
Megan Jones

School:
Ocean View Elementary School, Norfolk

Years as an educator:
5

Grades and subjects taught:
First and second grade

Special recognitions/awards:
School- and district-wide presenter to other educators on the subject of differentiation in the classroom; Published in The Mailbox magazine; Ocean View Elementary Staff of the Month Club 2012 member; First grade and second grade team leader and grade chair

Why did you choose teaching as a career? I was raised in a family of educators. I have always wanted to have an impact on a child’s life. I feel that an education is one of the most important things a person can have. I teach because it is my passion; I want to share the joys and the dreams of the future generation. I want to make the world a better place, one student and one smile at a time.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I am the consistency in these children’s lives that many of them may not have outside of school. Seeing their smile and excitement for learning makes it one of the most rewarding jobs.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? It is essential to make connections with each and every student, to build relationships and create a warm, inviting and conducive classroom environment.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? That they are academically proficient for third grade and that they believe themselves to be capable, lifelong learners. I want my students to know they are respectful and responsible citizens in our community.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I started a school-wide initiative to get staff and students excited for a day full of teaching and learning. In our daily math lessons, we count each day of school and use the number to drive calendar instruction. For instance, on the 80th day of school, staff and students celebrate by dressing up in 1980s attire [and using the number] 80 in math, writing and music. Likewise, in March, staff and students celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday. I greet the students at the door dressed as Thing 1 (blue wig and all). We transform the entire day into a “Seussville,” incorporating Dr. Seuss activities into all of our instructional lessons.

From her nomination: “My daughter’s favorite part of being in her class is the sense of community that Ms. Jones creates in her classroom. She feels like she is part of something special and is proud to be in Ms. Jones’ class where she is supported, challenged and continues to thrive both socially and academically.” —Shannon Walsh
 

 

Name:
Aaron Hill

School:
Smithfield High School, Smithfield

Years as an educator:
The aggregate experiences of my military career, subsequent independent school administration and current tenure at Smithfield High School combine to 22 years as an educator.

Grades and subjects taught:
Symphonic band, concert band, wind & percussion ensemble, jazz band, marching band and AP music theory for ninth–12th grade

Special recognitions/awards: Grand Marshal 2013, Smithfield Christmas Parade; Tidewater Writing Project Fellowship, 2013; Isle of Wight Achiever, February 2012, District VIII Concert & Symphonic Bands; Countywide Teacher of the Year, 2011–2012, Isle of Wight County Schools; High School Teacher of the Year, 2011–2012, Smithfield High School; Isle of Wight Achiever, 2010, Educator of Distinction, The Isle of Wight School Board

Why did you choose teaching as a career? I believe the art of teaching chose me. I always had an affinity for learning but never considered teaching as a profession. And my approach in the classroom is unorthodox in that I do not feel I teach. Instead, I strive to create an environment where I help students with the skills to learn beyond what I may present in the classroom.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I most enjoy watching my students think, search and realize on their own all the possibilities and solutions to achieve successful outcomes.

The most important thing you have learned during your
teaching career? The most important thing I have learned is the more autonomy I give my students, the more they are able to learn. In fact, there are times when they help me learn to look at and see things from new and clearer perspectives.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Most important for me is that my students find joy and excitement in learning. I want them to know that there is great value and pleasure in learning that they may become lifelong learners.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I am most proud of our Student Leadership Initiative—a student leadership structure that provides students with the opportunity to experience a variety of leadership situations throughout their high school career. This leadership initiative is a hallmark of the Smithfield High School Bands Program.

From his nomination: “Watching the senior section leaders refuse to get off the stage at their last concert of the season because of the sheer joy of playing music for the audience, for themselves, but most of all, for Mr. Hill… the love that these students have for their band director is palpable. And while building an award-winning high school band, he has developed students who are confident, energized and absolutely committed to being the best musicians they can be.” —Rick Bodson
 


Name:
Amy D. Insley

School:
York High School, Yorktown

Years as an educator:
14

Grades and subjects taught:
Elementary music; high school theatre

Special recognitions/awards:
Michael Sullivan Distinguished Service Award 2013; Nominated for The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award 2013; One of seven directors/theatre programs in the country to bring a show to the Edinburgh, Scotland Fringe Festival for 2014

Why did you choose teaching as a career? I didn’t choose teaching as a
career automatically. I was a performance major and landed a gig working at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. While working there, I helped teach workshops and fell in love with the natural high that teaching gave me. When I returned to the USA, I worked as an instructor at a performing arts academy and continued to grow as an educator and fall even more in love with sharing my passion for the theatre. Soon enough, I was employed in the public school system and taking classes to get my education career started!

Your favorite part about being a teacher? Seeing the light in a student’s eyes when what was first just an idea hatches into something amazing. Watching as they fill up with something meaningful and make it their own.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Every kid is inspired and taught differently. What they all show up needing from us as educators is individual and important. Figuring out what that need is for each of them is the ultimate trick of the trade. Some of them need help refining an already-existing talent. Some need to find out that they have a talent they didn’t know they had, and some need that person to tell them,
“I believe in you.”

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Theatre is an ensemble art, and so is life. We are all cogs in this wheel. Working together to share and create is the most important skill you can ever hope to master.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of?
The York High School Drama Department does quite a bit of community outreach—this includes special performances for senior citizens and elementary school students. We are also very proud of being invited to perform as a part of the International Fringe Festival in Scotland.

From her nomination: “Amy Insley is one of the kindest, most inspiring people I have ever met. It’s obvious to anyone that she loves what she does for a living. She puts 100 percent of herself into her students and their success.” —Casey Robbins
 

 

Name:
Deborah L. Perry

School:
Creekside Elementary School, Suffolk

Years as an educator:
12

Grades and subjects taught:
Third–fifth grade

Special recognitions/awards: 2002–2003 Rookie Teacher of the Year, Northern Shores Elementary School and Suffolk Public Schools; 2007–2008 Teacher of the Year, Creekside Elementary School

Why did you choose teaching as a career? Since I was a little girl, I knew that I wanted to teach. The love of teaching was inspired by several amazing teachers, and teaching is a career that I claimed as an adolescent. I never dreamed of doing anything else. I was born to teach!

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I enjoy making learning fun for the students. I strive to find a balance between delivering rigorous instruction while providing lessons and activities that allow children to have fun while learning. When parents tell me that their child enjoys coming to school and students share that they love my class, that’s my favorite part of teaching.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Each year I will have students from all walks of life enter my classroom. There are many factors outside of the school building that can impact a child’s development. I have learned not to let those circumstances foster low expectations and limit their possibilities. I have learned the importance of reaching, motivating and inspiring each student.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? It is important for children to strive to do their best on every assignment and test in every class, no matter their circumstances or how boring they may feel the class to be. I want all students to know the importance of taking responsibility for their education in order to be successful.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Several years ago, I searched for a new way to teach the topic of food chains in science. The class made the plant and a model of each animal on a food chain. We discussed the necessary vocabulary as students enjoyed making arts and crafts activities each day. By the time all organisms were created, students knew the content without ever opening a textbook. I have introduced food chains this way ever since, and the students love it!

From her nomination: “Ms. Perry is the best teacher ever. When I was sick over Christmas break in the hospital she came to visit me and bought me a coloring book and balloon. She stayed with me while my mom went home to take care of my brothers. She colored with me and helped me take my medicine. She took time away from her family to spend with me.” —Kyle Vargas
 


Name:
Valerie Stinson

School:
Hampton Roads Academy, Newport News

Years as an educator:
10

Grades and subjects taught:
Third–fifth grade all subjects; sixth grade reading, world civilizations and English; seventh grade geography

Special recognitions/awards:
Member of the founding faculty of Hampton
Roads Country Day School, now Hampton Roads Academy’s Lower School; Assistant Field Hockey Coach

Why did you choose teaching as a career? I graduated from Hollins University with a degree in Communication Studies, but I have always loved working with children, and teaching had been in the back of my mind. It did not take long for me to realize that I was in the wrong career and immediately went back to school for my teaching license.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I am lucky enough to teach in a PreK–12 environment where I get to see my students at every age. My favorite part is watching them grow, learn and succeed along the way.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? The importance of building relationships with my students and finding out what they are passionate about. If I can make the subject matter relate to them, then I know that they are hooked. Every child has unique skills and talents to help them succeed.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to leave my classroom with the skills they need to be problem solvers and lifelong learners. I would like for them to know it is alright to ask questions and how to find the answers.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I am most proud of the projects that allow the students to combine their creativity with technology. All of my students have Netbooks or iPads, and we use them every day in the classroom.

From her nomination: “One day she read me a note from a parent who described how a child had always struggled with school and the problems it caused in the home. The mother wrote that during the year in Valerie’s class, her son had discovered his own talents and abilities—not measured against others. He had improved his grades, enjoyed school and changed all their lives for the better. Ending, she thanked Valerie for ‘giving her back her son and giving him a bright future.’ Valerie turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I really made a difference, didn’t I?’” —Anonymous
 

 

Name:
Brandy Robbins

School:
Hardy Elementary School, Smithfield

Years as an educator:
16

Grades and subjects taught:
First–third grade

Special recognitions/awards:
Nominated for Teacher of the Year

Why did you choose teaching
as a career? I am fortunate enough to teach in the county where I attended school. All of my teachers through elementary and high school made a
huge impact on my current profession. I have known I wanted to be a teacher since eighth grade. I feel I was called to this profession.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? I cherish forming new relationships that will last a lifetime. I also enjoy that every day is different—sometimes good, sometimes challenging. I can be having the worst morning and my students will say something that makes all of that disappear.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? The most important things I have learned are flexibility and not planning too far ahead. A wise teacher once told me, “Don’t plan too far ahead because the requirements will change before you reach the deadline.” In the classroom, I can have the most organized day planned, and in the middle of a lesson, there is a drill or a student gets sick. A sense of humor and staying positive in this profession is a must.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to know I learn far more from them than they learn from me. I want my students to know that their dreams are never too big. I tell them they possess all the power they need to do the most amazing things with their life… all they have to do is decide when they will tap into it! I want them to know I truly believe in them.

What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I implement a money economy in my classroom. Students are responsible for earning, saving and spending class money. They take great pride in this, and hopefully it helps teach a lifelong lesson. I am also proud of the family classroom environment my students and I build during our year together. We learn that we may not always get along with our school family, but we must still listen to, communicate with and respect each other.

From her nomination: “Mrs. Robbins is truly dedicated to her students and parents. She loves what she does, and it shows!” —Rhonda Cahill
 


Name:
Wendy Jennings Chatman

School:
Deep Creek Middle School, Chesapeake

Years as an educator:
18

Grades and subjects taught:
Family and consumer sciences, sixth–eighth grade; Read 180, seventh and eighth grade

Special recognitions/awards:
Teacher of the Year 2012/2013, Reading Teacher of the Year 2012/2013, Literacy Award 2009/2010, Superintendent’s Award of Recognition 2009

Why did you choose teaching as a career? What better job is there?  I have the opportunity to touch lives, mold futures and be an example, and my students keep me young and up-to-date.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? Interaction with the students. I love children and being able to teach them about real life situations. I teach a unique subject, and it gives me the opportunity to really get to know my students.
 
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Everyone wants to be loved and treated with respect, no matter the age. During my career I’ve learned patience and the importance of a sense of humor. I’ve learned that students will rise to the occasion when asked. I’ve also learned that I’m sometimes not just a teacher to my students but also fill the role of mother, counselor, etc., and I must take my responsibility to them seriously.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? That they matter, first and foremost. I want my students to understand that their education is of the utmost importance and lines the way to their dreams and desires. All of my students leave knowing that they are my babies, and I expect to hear and see their success stories throughout their lives.

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? In 2009, I introduced a reading program in the school called “People of Distinction,” in which every student in our building read a book on African American history. We invited African American men and women who have made a significant difference in our community to come to the school—each guest honored us by reading to and talking with our young men and women, answering questions they had about their occupation, ministry, life, school or the reading selection. This program has been recognized by our Superintendent and was featured in Tidewater Teacher.

From her nomination: “There’s no job I’ve asked Ms. Chatman to do that she hasn’t done—and done well. She spearheaded our new discipline procedure, and I believe its success is directly attributable to the effort she has put into it. In addition, she chairs our Relay for Life cancer awareness campaign. Again, she goes above and beyond to ensure that our school is well represented. I really don’t know what I’d do without her assistance. She is ALWAYS willing to help in any way she can. I am amazed at her level of energy and enthusiasm for anything she does. Truly, she is an asset to Deep Creek Middle School.”  —Dr. Muriel Barefield, Principal
 

 

 

Name:
Meredith Holt

School:
Saunders Elementary School, Newport News
 
Years as an educator:
8
 
Grades and subjects taught:
First grade
 
Special recognitions/awards:
Saunders Elementary Teacher of the Year, 2010; Lead Teacher, 2009–2013

Why did you choose teaching as a career? I love children and helping people, so elementary education is a natural fit. With so much negativity around, I really enjoy having the opportunity to make a positive influence on our future generations at an early and important stage in their life.
 
Your favorite part about being a teacher? First grade is a big transition year for children since they have just begun learning how to be independent and function in an organized setting. The transformation from September to June is amazing, and it is exciting for me to watch them become independent readers and writers. I love seeing the excitement in my students’ eyes when they realize, “I can do it!” It is also very inspiring to see my students come in the classroom each morning with a smile on their face ready to take on the world.

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Every child is different and needs support and encouragement on different levels. Every child needs to know that they are accepted and they are capable of doing great things. I believe that it is important to instil confidence in our students at a young age so that they will have the strength and confidence to overcome the obstacles they will face in life.
 
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing?
I want my students to leave my classroom as independent readers, writers and mathematicians. I also want them to learn how to be responsible citizens. Being a kind and respectful citizen is the most important thing that I want them to remember when they leave me. They also know that I love them and I will always be there for them, no matter how old they are!

What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of?
A few years ago, when our school had after-school clubs, I helped organize a club to
teach etiquette to young girls called Girls in Pearls. My grandmother always told me “pretty is as pretty does,” and I have always thought it was important for young girls to learn that inner beauty is much more important than outer beauty.

From her nomination: “Mrs. Holt has restored my daughter’s love of learning! Last year, my daughter dreaded going to school. She was bullied and completely unmotivated to learn. This year, in Mrs. Holt’s class, it’s a whole new world. My daughter RUNS into school each day because she is so happy to be there.” —Melanie Weser
 

 


Name:
Lolita Teresa Kraft

School:
Norfolk Collegiate School, Norfolk

Years as an educator:
8

Grades and subjects taught:
Preschool, first and second grade

Special recognitions/awards:
Hackney Award for Lower School

Why did you choose teaching as a career? After putting my college days on hold to raise a family and move where the Navy took us, I was close to completing a degree in Physical and Health Education at Old Dominion University but decided to switch to elementary education because of all of the wonderful teachers my two sons had throughout their years in school. I am forever grateful to those teachers who went the extra mile to show my boys kindness and love and opened their minds to new ideas. My goal is to do the same for each of my students.

Your favorite part about being a teacher? The relationships I have developed with students and parents. Norfolk Collegiate is a special school. It really is a second home for me. I see my students each day and get to know so much about what is in their hearts and minds.  

The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career?
Be the kind of teacher you would want your own child to have.

At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? They are important to the world; their young voices are the voices that will change the future. I want each of my students to know they will always have a special place in my heart.   
        
What is one lesson/project/initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of?  I am super proud of bringing a book room to the Lower School with a wide variety of materials for teachers to use in their classroom reading groups. The book room also provides teachers with lessons, activities and graphic organizers for each book. It was a group effort from parents and colleagues; we are working to make the lessons available electronically to make it easier for teachers to access.  
I am also proud of helping implement the use of the Daily Five and The Café, developed by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, in our reading program at the Lower School. Our students are reading a minimum of 30 minutes a day, and that includes K–5!  

From her nomination: “NCS has the philosophy to ‘meet the child where they are,’ and Teresa Kraft truly lives it. She taught my daughter in both first and second grade. She is amazing! Teresa would call or text if my daughter wasn’t quite on her game—she truly knows my daughter well enough to notice the nuances of difference and always thought to talk with me about them. Now that my daughter has moved to third grade, Teresa still keeps close tabs on her. She brings joy into her classroom. I don’t think I’ve seen Teresa have a bad day, even when there was plenty of reason for her to. She loves teaching and she loves those kids.”
—Binnie McLaughlin

 


2013 Top Teacher Honorable Mentions
Lauren Dickerson, Butts Roads Intermediate School
Courtney Dziagwa, Booker T. Washington High School High School/Chesterfield Academy
Linda Ellis, Peninsula Catholic High School
Catherine Ennis, Red Mill Elementary School
Billy Gargaro, Peninsula Catholic High School
Jessica Hamilton, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School
Michelle Law, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School
Lauren Keating, Denbigh Baptist Christian School
Kathryn Kelchner, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School
David Penrod, Peninsula Catholic High School
Lauren Phillips, Linkhorn Park Elementary School
Mike Pilola, Peninsula Catholic High School
MaryBeth Ryan, Pembroke Meadows Elementary School
Laura E. Scott, Saint Patrick Catholic School
Carolyn Scullion, Cape Henry Collegiate School
 

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