Top Teachers: Karla Ott

Inspiration can come from almost anywhere. Karla Ott found it as a college student in the far reaches of Slovakia, working with children on a church mission with whom she had no way to communicate other than expression.

“We had absolutely no language connection with them,” she said. “It was simply about loving the children.”

Still in college at the time with aspirations of becoming a veterinarian, something clicked for Ott on the trip.

“I had never seen teaching and education as a field that I would be good in,” she said. “But I realized that it was not as much about teaching as much as developing connections with kids and loving them.”

Ott is now in her fourth year of teaching fourth-graders at Rivers Edge – a group she calls the perfect age for her.

“These kids, they haven’t developed the need to just get away from adults and away from having so much structure,” she said. “They still really crave the structure that elementary education gives them.

“And they still kind of think you’re pretty cool.”

Ott herself is a product of Henrico County Public Schools – a Tucker graduate who attended Shady Grove Elementary and Short Pump Middle and has lived in the River’s Edge zone nearly her entire life – since before the school itself ever existed.

She teaches a fitness class at the nearby Shady Grove YMCA before school in the mornings and for the past three years has also coached girls’ lacrosse at Deep Run High School in the afternoons. She’s given that up this year but has a new afterschool program that excites her just as much – a running club that she and two other teachers created.

“We were expecting 10 or 15 kids might be interested,” she said, “but our numbers are in the low 90s now. It has just exploded. The kids are so excited.”

The ‘River Runners’ club brings fitness experts and yoga instructors, among others, to educate second- through fifth-graders about different activities they can enjoy outdoors. Club members spend an hour each day running.

Ott credits her own love of running – which she developed after college at the behest of a friend – with changing her life by making her a more fit, confident person. (She’s since run several marathons and half-marathons.) She believed it could do something similar for her students, who will compete in the kids’ run at this year’s Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k.

“I just picture all of our kids in their River Runner shirts coming to the finish line,” Ott said, smiling at the thought.
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The Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter will present “Responding to Dementia Related Behavior” from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Spring Arbor of Richmond, 9991 Ridgefield Pkwy. Advance registration is required by calling 967-2580. Full text

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