Henrico’s Top Teachers – Ragan Collins

During her six years at Ratcliffe Elementary School, Ragan Collins has quickly become the school’s rock. Officially, Collins is a second grade teacher. Unofficially, she’s a friend, mentor, assistant and encyclopedia all rolled into one.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, Ms. Collins can give you helpful information on any of our 460 students that attend Ratcliffe,” a colleague wrote in a nomination letter. “Parents adore Ms. Collins, students are mesmerized by her and her colleagues use her for a resource at any given time of the day.”

Collins, who thought her love of children would lead to a career in pediatrics or child psychology, admits that she has a way with kids.

“I refer to myself as a child-magnet,” she says with a laugh. “Even when I’m out in public, strangers’ children will reach for me.

Her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia is in psychology. “So, I can gauge what students need from me,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s just me listening to them.

“Every child is waiting to get that positive experience from school [but] there are some who have just never had a positive experience that has made them buy into it. That’s the first thing that I’m going to do – try to get them to buy in.”

In the classroom, colleagues marvel at her ability to improve the reading skills of her students by one or two grade levels each year. The secret, she says, is not really a secret at all.

“It’s just giving them a comfortable space where they can have some meaningful practice. It’s not that they can’t read, it’s not that they don’t want to read – it’s just that they’re seven.”

To help give them extra practice, Collins constantly utilizes reading exercises across all topics, including social studies, math and other core subjects. And when a child who has struggled with reading finally breaks through?

“It is my favorite part of the job,” Collins says. “I’ll see them blossom. . . and it is just an absolutely beautiful experience.”

Collins has regularly had several special needs students in her classes with mainstream students, but her approach is the same with all students.

“There are 18 different personalities in my room at any one time,” she said. “It’s a constant balancing act to meet all of those needs.

“I’m in a place where I feel like I really matter to the kids, a place where I feel like I’ve been instrumental in some of their successes. Every year I get that affirmation that, you know what? This is a pretty rockin’ job.”
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The American Legion Post 233, 8088 Recreation Rd. in Varina, will host a free Music Jam at 5 p.m. every fourth Thursday of the month. Featuring country gospel and bluegrass music. Anyone is welcome to play or sing. Food and drinks are available for purchase. For details, call Wayne Gilbert at 572-3124. Full text

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