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Honoring Great Teachers

Mark Doyle and Cameron Vadersen 'inspired me to fall in love with English'

Mark Doyle

Teachers' reach extends far beyond the year they spend with their students. Read what this current teacher had to say about her former teachers, Landstown High School's Mark Doyle and now Secondary English Coordinator Cameron Vadersen-Jacob.

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, I just didn't know what subject I wanted to teach. I decided I wanted to teach English when I had two English teachers that inspired me to fall in love with the subject: Mr. Doyle and Mrs. Vadersen. Both these teachers made me love English because they made it fun and picked novels that were fun to read. Their love for their jobs and their relaxed and fun demeanors helped me see that English was the subject for me. They never made me feel stupid and I felt comfortable participating and asking questions. Now, years later, I am teaching English, and I hope one day I will be as good of a teacher as they both are. Thanks to Mr. Doyle and Mrs. Vadersen, I picked the best job in the world!

Hats off to Virginia Beach schools!

-Natalie Massey, teacher at Kempsville Middle School

Thanks to our sponsor, Cinema Café, Doyle and Vadersen received four free movie tickets.

Mark Doyle and Cameron Vadersen 'inspired me to fall in love with English'

Mark Doyle Cameron Vadersen

Teachers' reach extends far beyond the year they spend with their students. Read what this current teacher had to say about her former teachers, Landstown High School's Mark Doyle and now Secondary English Coordinator Cameron Vadersen-Jacob.

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, I just didn't know what subject I wanted to teach. I decided I wanted to teach English when I had two English teachers that inspired me to fall in love with the subject: Mr. Doyle and Mrs. Vadersen. Both these teachers made me love English because they made it fun and picked novels that were fun to read. Their love for their jobs and their relaxed and fun demeanors helped me see that English was the subject for me. They never made me feel stupid and I felt comfortable participating and asking questions. Now, years later, I am teaching English, and I hope one day I will be as good of a teacher as they both are. Thanks to Mr. Doyle and Mrs. Vadersen, I picked the best job in the world!

Hats off to Virginia Beach schools!

-Natalie Massey, teacher at Kempsville Middle School

Thanks to our sponsor, Cinema Café, Doyle and Vadersen received four free movie tickets.

Lisa Trojnar 'makes English exciting'

Lisa Trojnar

What higher praise is there for a teacher than to make the curriculum fun and exciting? Read one student describe what it's like being in Lisa Trojnar's class at Princess Anne Middle, just one month after school started.

I know it hasn't been that long in the school year but I have the best teacher ever. I am a seventh-grader at Princess Anne Middle and my English teacher is Mrs. Trojnar. She is funny, nice, VERY educational because she really grabs your attention. All kids hate just to jot down notes then take a test or quiz on it and she knows that. So she makes English really exciting when English is usually my worst/most boring subject but she makes it really fun yet VERY educational!!!

A Princess Anne Middle student,

Thanks to our sponsor, Cinema Café, Trojnar received four free movie tickets.

James Scheuer is ‘an outstanding teacher’

James Scheuer

Great teachers think outside the box for innovative lessons and experiences that challenge children to look at a new problem critically. Read this parent share how Princess Anne Middle’s James Scheuer

I sent this to the superintendent last year. Seems perfect to recognize Mr. Scheuer in this new Great Teachers program as well. I'm attaching a "Mystery Festival" project that my son's sixth-grade science teacher at Princess Anne Middle School put together for his students. I was utterly blown away by this project it was such an ingenious way of getting the kids involved and interested in science, by solving a mystery as if they were members of the Virginia Beach Police Force.

Mr. Scheuer is an outstanding teacher and deserves recognition from your office for his innovative and challenging teaching techniques and ideas. Thank you for your consideration and I hope to see you again soon.

Thank you,
Angela Sandelier

Thanks to our sponsor, Cinema Café, Scheuer received four free movie tickets.

Great Teaching comes natural at Tallwood Elementary

Jackie Cochran

People can’t quit talking about how much they appreciate the teachers and staff at Tallwood Elementary School. Read more about the Great Teachers who were highlighted.

Brenton Cashman is an inspiration

Brenton Cashman

The following email was forwarded to the Great Dreams campaign after a mother, Samantha Hassenfratz, wrote to praise the work of Tallwood Elementary School P.E. teacher Brenton Cashman.

We've been training for the Crawlin' Crab Shell Yeah Challenge since the beginning of his summer vacation. The Shell Yeah Challenge is a 5k on Saturday (this past Saturday to be exact) and a half marathon on Sunday (yesterday). Nolan has been getting up at the crack of dark to run with me before work/school 2-4 days a week since June. He's logged 238.5 (as of our 2-mile run this morning) since he started training in June and he's up to 114 miles just since the school year started.

We walked the 5k on Saturday because I wanted to make sure he was super strong for the half on Sunday. The Crawlin' Crab half marathon was his first official half marathon, but we had completed a half-marathon-distance training run 2 weeks earlier. He wasn't nervous, he was never negative, he was just super excited and ran a really strong race. His official finish time turned out to be 17 minutes faster than when we had practiced 2 weeks before - a HUGE PR (Personal Record) for him!

He's feeling pretty full of himself today (with good reason!), so I thought I'd share some pictures of our weekend with you. I hope you have a great week.

Thanks for helping me to keep him motivated (not too many kids would get up at 3 a.m. to run in the dark with their mom before school)! I know that you're a big inspiration for him, and it means a lot to me.

Thanks to our sponsor, YMCA on Laskin Road, Cashman received a free month membership as well as a VBCPS clock.

Melissa Duff goes above and beyond

Melissa Duff

Ms. Melissa Duff from Tallwood Elementary School exemplifies the phrase, “Great Dreams Need Great Teachers”. When you walk into the classroom, you might have a difficult time finding Ms. Duff. She is always eye level with students, whether this is sitting on the carpet, at a desk, or facilitating conversation with students in small group. Her calm demeanor, patients, and detailed listening allows her meet students exactly at their skill level. She goes above and beyond to find creative and hands-on activities to engage all students in learning. She is a natural with building relationships with all students while setting and maintain high expectations. She naturally records data, collaborates with all educators, and researches new ways to teach students having challenges with specific skills- not because it’s her job, but because she truly wants to see all students have success and love learning . If you watch Ms. Duff in action, you would have no idea she is a teacher assistant! She is a true facilitator of learning. She goes above and beyond every day to find innovative ways to make student dreams a reality!
-Leanna Landry

Thanks to our sponsor, YMCA on Laskin Road, Duff received a free month membership as well as a VBCPS clock.

David French “ignites the flame of life-long learning”

As an elementary principal, I know first-hand that the success of a school, lies on the backs of our teachers. A great teacher in a classroom is the number one indicator of a student’s success. I myself am a product of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, having attended Birdneck Elementary, Virginia Beach Junior High and Kellam High School. One teacher that had a profound impact on my life is Mr. Dave French.

David French

Mr. French knew how to find the spark in each of his students and ignite the flame of life-long learning. Mr. French is currently the principal of Tallwood Elementary School and I have the privilege of continuing to learn from him and alongside of him. He taught me some of the most valuable lessons as an 11-year-old, and still today, I strive to put some of his lessons into practice.

David French

Yesterday, I asked Mr. French to come speak to my teachers on integrating technology into their everyday lessons. It occurred to me during his presentation that I was as engaged and captivated in his lesson yesterday as I was sitting behind the desk as a student.

David French

Great Dreams really do need Great Teachers, and I can say that the foundation of my dream to be an educator was built from being a student in Mr. French’s class!
-Casey Conger, principal of Creeds Elementary

Thanks to our sponsor, YMCA on Laskin Road, French received a free month membership as well as a VBCPS clock.

Mauria Ganther and Debbie Seth are some of the best teachers around

Denise Jones Denise Jones

New Castle Elementary’s Mauria Ganther and Debbie Seth may teach different grades, but they have made the same impact on their students. Read more about them below.

To Whom it May Concern:

We are in the New Castle Elementary zone and have the best teachers around! Specifically, I would like to nominate Mrs. Ganther (fourth-grade) and Mrs. Seth (second-grade). We have been in this school for the last 5 years and we have had wonderful teachers along the way but this is definitely the best combination we have had.

Hats off to Virginia Beach schools!

-The writer of this email would like to remain anonymous

Thanks to our sponsors, Planet Fitness and the YMCA, each teacher received a free month of gym membership as well as a VBCPS clock.

Great Dreams coming true at PAMS

Jackie Cochran

Stories and testimonials came pouring in for teachers at Princess Anne Middle School. Read about some of the men and women making a difference at PAMS:

Terry Privette ‘builds trusting relationships’ with students

Diana McDowell

I would like to share with you a great teacher, Mr. Terry Privette. Mr.Privette is the band teacher at Princess Anne Middle School. He builds trusting relationships with his students, while continuously encouraging them to push harder and reach higher. He keeps parents very informed and involved with his class information. Not only does he work hard with the students during the school day, but he also dedicates countless weekends and holiday hours to showcase all his student's hard work. Mr. Privette has continuously proven to be an exceptionally Great Teacher.

Crystal Wilkerson

Thanks to our sponsors, Old Dominion University and Buffalo Wild Wings at Landstown Commons, Privette received four tickets to an Old Dominion women’s basketball game and a gift certificate to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Ellen Vinikoff makes sure all of her students succeed

Diana McDowell

I would like to nominate Mrs. Ellen Vinikoff for the 'Great Teachers' award.

Mrs. Vinikoff is a Keyboarding and Computer Solutions teacher at Princess Anne Middle School. She treats her students as though they are employees in an office. This teaching style allows everyone to become prepared for the real world, which in my opinion is very imperative. As well as preparing us for real world situations, Mrs. Vinikoff strives to make sure all of her students fully understand concepts and excel in the classroom. If a student is struggling, she is completely willing to assist them in any way possible, even if she has to take time out of her schedule. Mrs. Vinikoff teaches in a way that is inventive and also easy to grasp important information. Princess Anne Middle is so lucky to have a teacher like Mrs. Vinikoff. She is most certainly an asset to the school as well as the school system.

Submitted by Sarah Flinn

Thanks to our sponsors, Massage Luxe and Buffalo Wild Wings at Landstown Commons, Vinikoff received a gift certificate for a free facial and a gift certificate to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Janice Johnson ‘never gave up on me’

Diana McDowell

Mrs. Janice Johnson is a Great Teacher!! I was so happy to have had Mrs. Janice Johnson as my math teacher at Princess Anne Middle School. She boosted my math confidence. She never gave up on me or my math abilities. She was always there to help me. She was also fun to talk to sometimes. When I look back at my 6th grade year, Mrs. Janice Johnson is truly a great memory!! You rock Mrs. Johnson!! I did well on my math SOL all thanks to you!! Keep teaching!!

Kaitlyn S

Thanks to our sponsors, Rudee Tours, Johnson received two free dolphin watching passes.

Cheryl Zell is ‘knowledgeable, enthusiastic and kind’

Diana McDowell

I wanted to share a letter with you that I sent to Ms. Cheryl Zell at the end of last year. My daughter Hannah Duplessis was assigned to Ms. Zell as not only her homeroom teacher but her math teacher too. Hannah was very anxious and scared of what the year would hold, but Ms. Zell turned that all around for Hannah. Here is a copy of the letter that I sent to Ms. Zell:

Dear Ms. Zell:

Schools are busy places, and teachers are busy people, so it’s not surprising that sometimes they do not stop and reflect upon the influence they wield over the young people in their care. Often, it’s the little conversations, the friendly smile or brief compliment that mean the most to young people – those words can remain with a young person for a very long time, shaping their personality and their thoughts.

I wanted to take a few moments to write a letter to say thank you, you are a teacher of a rare breed, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and kind. You have children of your own, yet every day, you teach our children with seemingly endless patience.

I look back upon the beginning of the school year, from the moment Hannah entered your classroom she was a child transformed. I mentioned to you, that she felt anxious about middle school, busses and the lockers, but you certainly turned that around, now she confidently goes to school, the busses and the lockers.

You radiate positive energy, from your morning riddles and warm ups to the excitement you express with your innovative lesson plans shows your uniqueness and strengths. You promote an environment that makes learning easy and the impact you leave will stick with her and last indefinitely.

Thank you for being such a fantastic teacher, Hannah struggled last year, (her Dad bought the Sylvan 5th grade book and went through every lesson with her) and she was honestly dreading math this year, by the end of the first quarter her grades had improved dramatically, and remained constant throughout the year.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your time. Thank you for being genuine. Thank you for being Hannah’s teacher and for making her do her best.

You have rock star status in our house and are in a league of your own.


Vicky Duplessis

Thanks to our sponsors, Rudee Tours, Zell received two free dolphin watching passes.

Dianna McDowell helps students 're-find excellence'

Diana McDowell

Everyone has those times in life that can catch you off guard. Thankfully, teachers like Kemps Landing Old Donation School's Dianna McDowell help make sure students do not lose their way. Read how she played in an integral role in setting up one student for high school success.

Dianna McDowell is an eighth-grade science teacher at Kemps Landing Old Donation School (KLODS). My son Jackson, now a ninth-grader at Ocean Lakes High School (OLHS), was on the KLODS team she led last year. Dianna led a great team of teachers, but really showed she was worth her weight in diamonds when she led the team to collaborate on getting Jackson back on track academically last year. Normally an A/A- student, Jackson struggled mightily in the third quarter of last year, due, I believe, to some internal family trauma. His grades plummeted and at one point he was failing multiple courses and acting out in the classroom.

Some teachers, and teams of teachers, might have written Jackson off as a spoiled kid not worthy of help. Dianna and her team, however, recognized something was out of place and convened a support team to get to the root of the problem. They engaged me and I revealed the source of the unhappiness and stress. They set about with a plan to get Jackson back on the right track, balancing compassion with accountability in allowing him to make up work or re-accomplish tasks that were completed well below his capacity. I want to credit the whole team, but particularly to single out Dianna's leadership and personal interest in Jackson's recovery to form.

Jackson is back on track: all A's in his first quarter at OLHS, and playing as one of 3 freshman members on the OLHS JV baseball team. He has refound his mojo, and while he will never be in love with school generally – it's just not his nature -- he has set his sights to his goals and is performing above standard, while nurturing his real first love of social studies, in particular, history. I'm grateful to Dianna and her team at KLMS/ODC for helping our family through this time, and helping Jackson re-find excellence.

Butch Bracknell

Thanks to our sponsors, Magnolia Run Apartments, Five Guys and McDonalds, Dierstein received a gift basket with school supplies and gift certificates.

Kristi Dierstein 'a firestarter' who 'ignites learning'

Kristi Dierstein

Kristi Dierstein is a fifth-grade teacher at New Castle Elementary School, and she makes sure her students are ready for the big transition to middle school. Read below how just one set of parents confirms just how much "Big D" meant to her son.

Mrs. Dierstein is a fifth-grade teacher at New Castle Elementary. "Big D," as her students fondly call her, has made an impact in our child's life. Even though he is now in middle school, till this day Big D is part of our conversations and lives. Our son would use what he learned in her class to reflect on his current classes and his application of the work. Our son was a very insecure boy who disliked reading and writing. Tasks on these subject areas took many hours to complete and many tears were shed. His frustration and ours were at great levels.

After a month in Mrs. Dierstein's class, our son's confidence and ability to express his ideas on paper were impressive. I could not believe it was the same child that sat on our kitchen table and was able to eloquently express his thoughts and ideas.

We celebrated every success and encouraged him on. I can honestly say what Big D has done and the imprint she has left in our son’s heart will last a lifetime. There are teachers you will never forget and Mrs. Dierstein is one of them. She not only impacted our son’s life, but also, with words of encouragement and love, allowed him to discover his abilities and potential.

She was a fire starter for she ignited his love for reading and writing. Mrs. Dierstein epitomizes excellence and what a high quality teacher is. She is definitely a great teacher, who has been a part of our child's future dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Medina

Thanks to our sponsor, Primo Pizza, Dierstein received a free lunch for two.

Jeremy Lasley Comes Full Circle at King's Grant

Kristi Dierstein

The first day of school is a day full of nerves for many teachers and students but for one teacher at King's Grant Elementary School it was a homecoming of sorts.

Jeremy Lasley, a third-grade teacher and Virginia Beach native, returned to King's Grant Elementary where he attended school as a child. He graduated from Virginia Beach Friends School and attended King's Grant as a child. He began his teaching career two years ago at Princess Anne Middle School and last year joined the staff at King's Grant as a fifth-grade teacher. To make things even more interesting, he taught on the same team as his fifth-grade teacher, Cynthia Watrous. He remembers her well as his math/science teacher.

"It was great working with Ms. Waltrous," he said. "I was 11-years-old when she was my teacher. Coming back to King's Grant and working with someone who taught me was a good feeling. She gave me a lot of helpful advice on classroom management. I vividly remember her helping me the first time I had to do report cards. She was right across the hall from me so she was able to assist a great deal."

Lasley's first year at King’s Grant gave him an opportunity to get reacquainted with Watrous, and to get to know his students. He was reminded of where his passion for teaching originated. It came from his older brother who is dyslexic.

"My brother had a very different experience in school than I did," said Lasley. "I originally wanted to be a special education teacher to help students like my brother. I earned a degree in Special Education and picked up an Elementary Education endorsement." His Special Education background helps him to better understand his students who require extra help and patience.

Lasley also uses his love of music to connect with his students. He does vocals, plays the guitar and drums.

"I love to incorporate music into the classroom," he said. "I will sometimes strum a few chords while the students are working. Recently, I did a lesson for main idea and supporting details. At one point in the lesson, I played What a Wonderful World by Louie Armstrong on guitar and sang it to the students. I then asked them to tell me the main idea of the song. They all had a good time with that lesson. I'm constantly looking for new ways to incorporate music into the classroom."

Lasley is inspired by his students' energy and enthusiasm that comes from youth. He stated that watching them learn and grow as people and learn new things is a rewarding experience.

"I believe reading is arguably the most important part of any education," he said. "Reading leads to endless opportunities for self-education. My goal is to help kindle a love for reading and writing in all of my students."

Diane Marx is 'a skilled and caring teacher'

Ryan Rowles

Nancy Davis can tell you the difference a great teacher can make. Her daughter, Monika, went from a struggling reader to chasing after a dream of becoming a journalist. Read more about Marx’s impact below.

Monika Davis is a true success story because of her first grade teacher, Mrs. Marx at Creeds Elementary School. Mrs. Marx recognized a weakness in Monika's reading skills and worked closely with her and a reading specialist to help her improve. Monika blossomed and developed a love for reading and writing. She enjoyed reading - so much that with the guidance of several teachers and the principal Robin Davenport she helped form an after school reading program. "Creeds Reads" helped dozens of students to develop a love for reading.

Monika has excelled throughout her academic career attending the Middle Years Program at Plaza Middle School and is currently a Senior at Princess Anne High in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. She is planning a career in Journalism with a strong interest in Public Relations.

Because Mrs. Marx is such a skilled and caring teacher Monika was able to develop the skills needed for success.

Thanks so much for the wonderful foundation that helped form her very bright future!!

Nancy S. Davis

Thanks to our sponsor, Old Dominion University, Marx received two free tickets to the ODU football game Nov. 28.

Jackie Cochran creates 'the most engaging' lessons for her students

Jackie Cochran Jackie Cochran

Jackie Cochran is a fifth-grade teacher at Birdneck Elementary School. Read how her colleague, Robin Meyer, describes Cochran’s work in the classroom.

I would like to nominate a colleague of mine for the "Great Teachers" recognition. Jackie Cochran is just that. I have been lucky enough to co-teach a fifth-grade inclusion classroom with Mrs. Cochran. She effectively fosters a safe, comfortable classroom with an emphasis on building a community while creating good citizens through her daily morning meeting. This gives everyone a voice and she makes each and every student feel important.

Her students are often observed helping others, showing empathy, and celebrating others' achievements. This is because of her effective and natural modeling. Mrs. Cochran treats every single student in her class the same. No one is singled out. She expects the same from her students. There is no "your students" or "my students"--they're "our students." Recently, I had a student ask me, "Which one of you is my IEP teacher?" That's the sign of an amazing teacher. She works with each student no different than another while providing accommodations and naturally differentiating their work.

During today's lesson using iPads, she was sitting on her back table next to a student that benefits from frequent movement. She was making sure he had support and a partner, while meeting his need to move around. She adapts her teaching based on the needs of her students. She maintains consistent contact with parents and encourages their involvement. Mrs. Cochran engages her students with technology, movement, and hands on activities. She reflects on her practice, seeks feedback from her peers and makes necessary adjustments.

With the many challenges we face as teachers, our work is often overlooked. But you can count on Mrs. Cochran to stay up many late nights, collaborating via text while creating the most engaging lesson for her students!

Submitted respectfully,
Robin Meyer

Thank you to sponsor Planet Fitness on Holland Road, which gave Cochran a free month membership for her work.

Princess Anne’s Brian and Linda Miller have a passion for children

The Millers

To most students who pass through the doors of Princess Anne High School (PAHS), the names Brian and Linda Miller are certainly familiar.

Brian, who teaches government and special education, and Linda, who is a special education teacher, are an integral part of the family atmosphere at PAHS. The couple has taught in Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) for 26 years and 14 years, respectively.

Originally from New York, Brian and Linda met while working at a school together. They dated and were married within two years. They relocated to Virginia Beach in 1990. Brian had visited the area in the 70s while coaching wheelchair sports. They, along with other family members, were attracted to the area’s friendly people, schools, and weather. They felt that it was a wonderful place to raise their family.

If it is one thing that is evident from the Millers’ interactions, it’s their passion for children. Linda’s face lights up when she speaks of one of her students. Take, for example, one of her students from last year. “I saw more potential in him than he could see in himself at the time,” she said. “He took his first SOL’s last year and scored at 430 on the Earth Science test. I was so proud of him.”

The parents of three commented that their students are like their own children.

“They are our family. We are tough when we have to be tough,’ said Brian. “There is a lot of loving and caring that goes into what we do.”

As for their own children, the apples do not fall far from the tree.

Their two oldest children attended PAHS. Their youngest completed his studies at First Colonial.

“As you can imagine as a teenager having a parent that taught at the high school you attend can be a little awkward,” said Linda. “I remember my son coming home from school with this surprised look on his face, with a chuckle he said, ‘Mom, the kids really like dad.’”

Their daughter, Jessica, is also following in her parents’ footsteps. She is a teacher assistant at Green Run High School and is in a special education graduate program at Old Dominion University.

The Millers are actively involved in the community and their church, Kings Grant Presbyterian. They are involved in local mission work through KGPC’s “Outside These Walls Ministry” that has positively impacted several deserving causes including The Dwelling Place, Seton Youth Shelters, Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan House and the Judeo Christian Outreach Center. They have brought that work with them to Princess Anne as well.

“We are particularly proud of the work our church does through this ministry,” said Linda. “We go out into the community on what are called “Blitz Days” and perform needed service for local nonprofits and people in need. PAHS’s NROTC, other student groups and teachers have been valued participants in volunteering to help with this outreach.”

Together, they see their work in the community and the classroom as vital for children in Virginia Beach. And, as such, they could not see themselves doing anything else.

“Absolutely what we are doing now,” Brian said, when asked what would be his dream line of work. “We have the opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives.”

Renee Sanders sets high expectations for her learners

Ryan Rowles

Renee Sanders is a fourth-grade teacher at Shelton Park Elementary, and, according to colleagues, she holds her classes to the highest standards - even just in their conversations. Check out Molly Lewis (who also nominated Pembroke Meadows's Charlene Widel) had to say about Sanders.

"Mrs. Sanders sets high expectations for the learners in her class. It is extremely impressive to even just listen to the learners in Mrs. Sanders class. The students in her class use, apply, and understand high-level vocabulary that allows them to communicate with clarity and precision. Mrs. Sanders has implemented effective routines and created an overall atmosphere of academic learning at the highest level."

Thank you to Rudee Tours, which provided two whale-watching passes to celebrate Sanders's work in the classroom.

Charlene Widel 'molds life-long learners'

Ryan Rowles

Charlene Widel is a first-grade teacher at Pembroke Meadows Elementary School. Walk into her class and her students are the first to tell you how worthy she is of being honored. Pembroke Meadows Principal Dr. Charles Spivey announces that Widel is a great teacher, and one student pipes up from the back, "And a loving teacher!" See how Widel's colleague, Molly Lewis, describes Widel in the classroom.

"Mrs. Widel instills an amazing love for learning in her students. Students in her class are excited to be at school. Mrs. Widel motivates students by using technology to share student work. Students in Mrs. Widel's class strive to do their best work so that they can share it with classmates and parents. Students are encouraged to give meaningful feedback to each other. Mrs. Widel is helping mold life-long learners who have the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century."

Thank you to sponsor Rudee Tours, which gave Widel two free passes to go whale watching as a celebration of her work.

Ryan Rowles teaches at the very place his ‘love of music was shaped’

Ryan Rowles

Ryan is energetic, enthusiastic, caring, and passionate. He brings incredible energy to his classroom. He spends time with every student. When he sees a student struggling to understand, he models the skill himself and works with the student to master the skill. The students appreciate his enthusiasm for the school and the band program. They know that he wants the best for them, the program, and the school.– Cheryl Askew, Ocean Lakes High School Principal

This may be the first year Ryan Rowles is serving as the band teacher and band director at Ocean Lakes High School, but it is not his first year as a Dolphin. You see, Rowles is a 2010 graduate of Ocean Lakes High School and a former member of the band.

After graduating from OLHS, Rowles attended Shenandoah Conservatory where he graduated in 2014. He came back, took a long-term sub position at Landstown High School, and volunteered helping the Ocean Lakes band.

Then he got his dream job…band director at Ocean Lakes.

“I’ve been waiting for this since I picked up a clarinet at age 9,” Rowles said. “The fact that it is here at Ocean Lakes just makes it more special, here where my love of music was shaped.”

Music, itself, and his high school band director, Leah Nelson, inspired Rowles. He said music was where he excelled and the band gave him a home, a place where he belonged. Now, he wants to provide the same for his students.

Rowles believes he will bring a level of excitement, enthusiasm, and passion to the band and to music. He thinks his youth will help him approach things in a different way and in a manner that students will relate to and understand. At the same time, he has welcomed advice from his former band director, band directors in the area and parents.

Rowles expects his students would describe him as energetic, “crazy, in a good way,” and inspirational. He shared that as a band teacher, he will have some students for four years and can really watch their growth and he expects to see increased maturity and accountability.

As for himself, Rowles will maintain the professional role of teacher and supporter while at the same time providing trust and an atmosphere where students can take chances. He is going to continue this year to learn the administrative side of teaching.

“I have big dreams; I don’t think small.”

Felicia Bailey delights in her students

Felicia Bailey

Felicia is one of the most caring, energetic people I have met. She combines the best characteristics of a teacher with the heart of a parent and the wit of an entertainer! She captures a child’s attention and hangs on to it. She can read children and she understands how to make an impact with them. When I have a conversation with Felicia, we laugh, we think, we solve the world’s problems, and then we laugh some more…I always leave better than I entered.

– Dr. Patti Jenkins, principal of Kempsville Middle School

Felicia Bailey is starting just her second year of teaching, but she is already a seasoned veteran. Bailey has four children, and has served as various PTA officer or committee chairs representing her children’s schools at the local, district and state levels.

She worked as a teacher assistant in kindergarten classes as well as a PALS teacher.

Then, Bailey took the leap.

Today, Bailey is a sixth grade special education teacher at Kempsville Middle School. She teaches self-contained English and social studies, inclusion English and math as well as Read 180. After years working in and for schools, Bailey has found her niche.

“Middle schoolers are amazing because they are still figuring out what they are to the world and what they want to be,” she said.

Positivity, innovation, compassion and all types of awareness – cultural, political, community and global – are some of the attributes Bailey hopes to bring to her teaching. She believes that the student/teacher relationship is the most important part of teaching and that if students don’t trust you, they can’t learn from you. Listening is a teacher’s biggest asset, she says. In order to make dreams come true for students, teachers have to listen to their students to determine their dreams and work right alongside them to help them accomplish them.

Bailey’s students are her delights.

When asked how they would describe her, Bailey laughs and replies that it would depend on who was asked. She mentions that they would all say that they laugh, they have fun, and they learn. She jokingly added there would also be one student who would clearly say that she gives them far too much work. As Bailey continues to learn and grow in her role, she credits wonderful mentors with giving her many words of wisdom along the way. Specifically, there is one piece of advice she keeps close to heart. Joe Burnsworth, principal at Plaza Middle, once told her that you have to love what you do in order to be good at it.

Looks like she already has.

David Lamb “hooks” students on math

David Lamb

When Emily Simpson came to David Lamb’s class at Larkspur Middle, math was nowhere near her favorite subject. After a year working and learning with Lamb, though, that all changed. Read this email from Emily’s mother, Jennifer, who shares how Lamb has made an impact on her daughter’s life.

The great teacher I think you need to know about is Mr. David Lamb, a 6th-grade math teacher at Larkspur Middle School.

I have the ultimate respect for teachers, both my sisters are teachers and I see firsthand their dedication to their students in spite of the many challenges they face. Personally, I am not sure why someone would voluntarily choose to be a middle-school math teacher, but I am confident there is no one better suited for this profession than Mr. Lamb.

My daughter, Emily, really struggled with math in fifth grade. Although a very bright and successful student, when her fifth-grade teacher recommended her for Advanced Math instead of Pre-Algebra, I had to reluctantly agree. The last thing I wanted was to push her too hard and increase her frustration with the subject. Thankfully, and unbeknownst to me at the time, this was a very fortuitous decision.

Enter Mr. Lamb. Right from the sixth-grade orientation night when I met him for the first time, I knew Emily was in good hands. From his off-the-cuff humor to his systematic approach to teaching mathematical concepts, I had high hopes for the upcoming year. Emily was hooked from the beginning and came home full of praise for Mr. Lamb. Almost immediately I saw her confidence in the subject improve. Throughout the year it only got better with Emily being able to easily complete her math assignments despite the concepts becoming increasingly more difficult. Gone was the frustration I had seen in years past. Math went from being Emily's least favorite subject to her most favorite subject.

At the end of the school year, Mr. Lamb recommended Emily for Algebra, which made her very proud of her accomplishments throughout the year. Now, when I sit down to assist her with her Algebra homework, I see her using very simple, straightforward techniques when solving complicated equations. When, I ask her "How did you learn that method for solving the problem?" the answer is invariably "Mr. Lamb taught me".

My definition of a great teacher is one who inspires their students to greatness, instills a sense of confidence, and motivates them to be lifetime learners. With this in mind, to make my point in terms I know Mr. Lamb would appreciate: Great Teacher = Mr. Lamb

Sincerely yours,

Jennifer Simpson

(a very grateful parent)

Thank you to sponsor Planet Fitness on Holland Road, which gave Lamb a free month membership for his work.

Heather Piccoli goes above and beyond

Heather Piccoli

Thalia Elementary School’s Heather Piccoli has had a whirlwind week. Good Morning America surprised the art teacher with a new 3D printer for her classroom as well as tickets to the upcoming Brad Paisley concert right here in Virginia Beach. Piccoli, who was nominated by her husband for the honor, has clearly made an impact on her students. As former student Grace Scholefield recalled in the piece, “She made me feel good about myself, good about my art and the bullies just kind of disappeared in my mind after that. She told everyone, especially me during that time, ‘Just be myself.’” Check out the video here.

Kimberly Piper renews love of learning in students

Kimberly Piper

Amy Scarpulla knows how Kimberly Piper can inspire her students. Piper, a teacher at Princess Anne Middle School, had Scarpulla’s daughter for a summer school class this year. That one class helped make all the difference for the middle-schooler.

I am a parent of a new student to VBCPS, we moved here over the summer from Germany, DODEA schools. My rising eighth-grader struggled in math last year and we decided to put her in summer school to catch her up and get used to a new curriculum. I couldn’t be more pleased with her summer school teacher Ms. Piper. She was a godsend and helped my child catch up and even enjoy math. She was excited to share what she learned in class and to show off her grades on quizzes and tests. Because of Ms. Piper’s hard influence she gave my child a renewed love of learning and she is excited for the upcoming year! So thank you Ms. Piper!

Amy Scarpulla

Thank you to sponsor Primo Pizza & Ristorante, which gave Piper a free dinner for two for her hard work.

Scott Kamholtz is ‘inspiration’ to his students

Scott Kamholtz

John B. Dey’s Physical Education Teacher Scott Kamholtz is proof of the crucial role teachers play in a child’s development. Kamholtz transforms his students’ approach and thinking to their health and wellness – all while having a great time in class. Check out this letter sent from Mo Majewski, a parent of one of Kamholtz’s students.

To Whom It May Concern:

It is such a challenge for parents in these current times to keep children on track with physical activity and proper nutrition. We are living in a society that is consumed by being plugged into some type of technology at all times, while also being surrounded by poor and processed food options. It is SO refreshing to have a teacher, like Mr. Kamholtz, to motivate children to run and be active while also teaching them healthy nutrition options.

Scott Kamholtz with students

When my 9-year-old son told me that Mr. Kamholtz (Mr. K) is his inspiration I was SO touched and grateful. For a third-grade boy to realize the work and dedication it takes to be a healthy and active person proves that Mr. Kamholtz is leading by example. My son also will point out healthy options while grocery shopping… looking at the nutritional labels!!! Again, for a 9-year-old boy to understand and realize this is a testament to the work that Mr. Kamholtz and his staff are instilling in these students that will be a lifelong lesson to benefit their health and well-being.

Thank you for considering Mr. Kamholtz for his dedication to the health and well-being of the students at John B. Dey.

A healthy student is a happy student!

With kind regards,

Mo Majewski

(mother of Jace Majewski, 3rd grade student at John B. Dey).

Kathryn Lienau's students are 'extremely fortunate' to have her as a teacher

Teachers can make a difference in a child's life – and, in some cases, they can make that difference without so much as meeting their students. Case in point, take the example of Kathryn Lienau, a social studies teacher at Landstown High School. Lienau signed up to teach an online summer school class, and Tallwood High School Senior De'Qwuann Jordan was in her virtual classroom. When summer came to an end, and the regular school year was about to start, Jordan let Lienau know how much she meant to him.

Ms. L

I can't believe how fast this summer school semester has ended. I'll be taking my test tomorrow but before I do, I just wanted to take a few minutes out, to say thank you. Thank you for pushing me in all my lessons (even though I slacked off at the end, I know) :), I appreciate everything that you have given to all of us, I know it can be difficult at times, dealing with so many different students. You made the course fun, you gave all of us situations and topics to think about, and the work you assigned throughout the course made us use our thinking caps. :)

I'm not sure what school you are a teacher at, but what I can say is, your students are extremely fortunate, to have such a compassionate teacher, who enjoys what she does. I can tell you enjoy what you do because your work came out in the work you assigned to us :).

I'll be an upcoming senior this school year and I'll forever take the learning experience that I've had in your class with me. I must say you made me work, think, and analyze a lot of the papers we did. I can also say it was all well worth it. Thank you for taking time out of your summer to work with me and the many others in my class. I hope that you will try to enjoy the rest of your summer, relax, and let your hair down a little :).

Though we have never met face to face, I will say, that you are truly one of the best teachers I have ever come across. Thanks again Ms. L for all the hard work and determination you put into us.

De'Qwuann Jordan
Graduating Class of "2016"

Shaggy to teachers: ‘We love you. We thank you, and our children need you’

Shaggy to Teachers video

Turn your radio to Z104 any weekday morning and you’re bound to hear from Z Morning Zoo's popular DJ, Brandon “Shaggy” Stokes. The man behind the annual ShaggFest concert and the Z104 Stuff The Bus campaign is also a graduate of Virginia Beach City Public Schools. He has a special message for teachers as they start the year. Check it out!

Denise Jones is the “Energizer Bunny” of Point O’View

Denise Jones

“When I think about what make Denise Jones so very special as a dedicated educator, I immediately think of the word love. She has a spark in her eyes and in her smile that lets you know that she oves her students, loves teaching, and she loves Point O’View Elementary School. She is always excited to start school. I have not ever seen her without a smile on her face when working with children or without that ever present bottle of continuous energy that promotes learning. I am so blessed to have her here at POV. Her love for kids is unmatched.”

– Paulette France, principal of Point O’View Elementary School

Imagine spending 30 years of your career working in the same space.

Denise Jones, a first-grade teacher at Point O’View Elementary, can almost claim she has. While she has spent 30 years working at Point O’View, but she did have to change classrooms once in those three decades.

How does someone launch a 30-year career in education? For Jones, it all came back to her own fourth-grade teacher. A woman she describes as kind, compassionate and happy. Her teacher made an indelible mark on her life.


With the permission of Jones’s mother, this teacher actually pierced Jones’s ears.

Now it is Jones’s time to leave lasting memories with her students. Jones thinks her classes would describe her as being crazy, full of energy, a little hyper and happy. A former principal, Ed Timlin, always referred to her as the “Energizer Bunny.” However they remember her, Jones is always glad when former students come back to check in with their former first-grade teacher. She even had one student who signed with Notre Dame to play football and he invited her to his signing.

With generations of students and years of lessons under her belt, Jones can reflect on how far public education has come. She has seen many changes.

She remembers when class sizes were 28 students in first grade and when breakfast was not served at school, much less being served in class.

She remembers having three reading groups all reading from a basal reader.

She remembers having to thread a projector like those in movie theatres and running copies involved a ditto machine and hands being stained with purple ink.

She remembers when SOL was just a nickname for the sun and it did not cause a bit of stress.

However, somethings are constant. Jones said she would want any new teacher to know that the job is not over when the students leave the building. Teachers need to build relationships with students, she said.

After all, it is much easier to motivate students if they know you care about them.

Brandon Joyner helps students become better citizens

Brandon Joyner

“Brandon’s students appreciate him because he challenges and respects them as learners. He personifies rigor and relevance, building in his students a higher order conceptual understanding of civics and government.”

– Gene Soltner, principal of Great Neck Middle School.

Brandon Joyner, a civics and economics teacher at Great Neck Middle School, is very clear about his goal for this year: to help his students become great citizens and better people than when they walked in his room.

Joyner is convinced that great things happen to great people. His job is to help make his students great.

“You have to push hard to be where you want to be,” Joyner said.

He would know.

Joyner attended George Mason University where he earned his undergraduate degree in history and his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. However, he did not just work hard in his academic career. Joyner was a professional volleyball player in Croatia, Sweden and Finland. He still plays professionally for the National League, but he is quick to point out, “only in the summer!”

Joyner uses his career to talk openly with his students about the importance of hard work, discipline and goal setting. One day, Joyner had a student profess she too wanted to become a professional volleyball player. That opened the door for him to share that while he loves playing volleyball, his life is all about teaching.

His advice? Focus on academics to give yourself many more opportunities.

He believes that his students would describe his class as one that is fun and enjoyable. He hopes the students look forward to coming to class. Joyner certainly enjoys coming to work. He stresses that teaching isn’t and shouldn’t be a solitary profession. People are willing to help. You simply have to reach out and ask. He readily credits his department with helping him.

“Their strong knowledge rubs off on me,” he said with a laugh.

He also had some other outside help. Joyner comes from a family of educators. His dad is an elementary principal in Chesterfield County, and his mother is a seventh-grade English teacher. His preparation for teaching began just watching them.

He learned that you will have good days and bad days, but at the end of the day if you are in education you have the ability to change a life.

Sheryl Harps-Pearson heard the call of teaching - at age 7!

Sheryl Harps-Pearson

Education was always the family business for Sheryl Harps-Pearson, second- grade teacher, at Linkhorn Park Elementary School. She had family members who taught elementary through high school. Yet it was her second -grade teacher, Mrs. Powell, who inspired Harps-Pearson to become a teacher. Harps-Pearson described her second grade year as an experience of “…leaving home and going to home.” Mrs. Powell made school “…so comfortable and so fun. I knew I was going to be a teacher when I was seven.”

And here she is starting her 23rd year of teaching at Linkhorn Park Elementary where she has spent her entire teaching career. The school moved; Harps-Pearson did not. She has seen many changes in education, the biggest she describes is in technology. When she began teaching, Harps-Pearson describes technology as the computers being a station in the room where students could go after they finished their work. Now technology is a tool in teaching, it is connected and infused in all aspects of education.

This past summer as she does every summer, Harps-Pearson used the time to reflect. She reviewed what went well this past year, what could have gone better, what needed tweaking and what needed to be shelved. She says she is flexible and is always willing to change to meet the needs of her students. This summer Harps-Pearson also completed her school’s reading assignment, Who Owns the Learning by Alan November. She plans on working to get children to take ownership of their learning through technology. Harps-Pearson also just enrolled in coursework to pursue her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Not very long ago, Harps-Pearson had one of her former students return to talk to her as he was completing his student teaching. She said that she was sitting there talking to this delightful, energetic young man about best practices in elementary education, and she had difficulty seeing past his 7-year-old self. She also remembers a sixth-grade student (when sixth grade was in elementary schools) who was a bit bossy to her fourth-grade students. She told him in no uncertain terms that he could not continue to tell them what to do without teaching them something and that to do that he needed to be professional. To be professional, he needed a lesson plan to include what he was going to teach and how he was going to do it and he needed to dress professionally. Imagine her surprise when a week later, this young man showed up at her class door with a lesson plan in hand and wearing a tie!

There is always music in Harps-Pearson’s class and she guesses that if her students were asked to describe her they would all say, “She loves music.” Sounds like just the right note.

Amy F. Brown is an ‘AVID’ fan of education

Amy F. Brown

Amy F. Brown is about to begin her 27th year teaching in Virginia Beach. She is a home grown teacher, having gone to Kingston Elementary, Lynnhaven Junior and First Colonial High School. She credits not just one specific teacher for inspiring her to become a teacher, but rather the entire group of Virginia Beach teachers she had growing up.

When asked what changes she has seen in education in her 26 years of teaching, Brown laughs and replies, “A lot!” She talks about the change from teaching at a junior high to a middle school model; she talks about the increase in collaboration across the board and how teachers have more input opportunities; she talks about how we approach teaching and our use of applying learning to real life applications; and the increase of our emphasis on testing and data.

Teaching each year keeps Brown renewed. “The children change, the world changes. We have to engage our students.” To that end, Brown reflects on what she does and makes changes. As she says, “I would get bored if I did the same thing year after year.” This is Brown’s second year working in the AVID program. Her goal is to strengthen her skills and add to them.

Brown has plenty of skill already and a willingness to help others develop their teaching craft. Throughout her career, she has served as the cooperating teacher to student teachers and often reminds them that while nothing will prepare them fully for being a teacher in their own classrooms but also that nothing compares to the joy of helping children reach their potential. Brown also encourages new teachers to look for other staff members who will help. There is plenty of support in a school and in the school division. She remembers that there were plenty of veteran teachers who helped her and took her under their collective wings as she was starting out.

Now, nearly 27 years later, Brown is the seasoned veteran. How does she think her students would describe her? She hopes they would use words such as fair, respectful and enthusiastic. She knows for sure they would describe her as being a true Hokie fan! Former students often return to visit Brown. They are eager to share what they are doing and just as eager to ask her to reminisce with them about specific books, projects or even strategies she used. One student went to Virginia Tech and minored in English because of the enjoyment she felt in Brown’s class.

We all have our gifts. Brown is organized and helpful with her fellow teachers but her real gift is working with and inspiring her sixth and seventh grade students.

VBEA President shares the importance of teaching

VBEA president shares the importance of teaching video

Trenace Riggs, president of the Virginia Beach Education Association (VBEA), talks to teachers about the important role they play in today’s community. As a sponsor of this campaign, the VBEA wants VBCPS teachers to know their work matters!