Henrico County VA

Collegiate teacher wins statewide award

Collegiate teacher Rob Wedge (center) with Ben Rein, head of Collegiate’s Upper School, and Suzanne Gallagher, director of the VCU Center for Economic Education.
An economics class he took in college has resulted in long-term payoffs for Rob Wedge -- and for growing numbers of students at The Collegiate School as the well.

In 1996, as a history teacher at Winchester (Massachusetts) High School, Wedge was approached by the assistant principal, who was casting around for someone to take over his part-time teaching duties.

Noticing the economics class on Wedge's college transcript, and not wanting to turn over his economics class to someone who knew nothing about the subject, the administrator asked Wedge if he'd be willing to teach part-time while working on his master's degree at Boston University.

"Being a starving college student," recalls Wedge, "I happily took the job."

Before long, his Winchester students had won a local Fed Challenge competition, which led to a job at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. For the next several years, Wedge worked with The Fed and at the Massachusetts Council on Economic Education, developing and coordinating economic education programs.

But even though he was involved in educational pursuits, and his new jobs were more lucrative than his Winchester job, Wedge began to long for the classroom again.

"I really missed my first love – teaching," he says.

Part-time to full-time
So when Wedge got a call offering him a position with the E. Angus Powell Endowment for American Enterprise at The Collegiate School in Richmond -- and was told he could teach part-time – he didn't hesitate long. Married only a few months (after meeting his wife playing softball for the Fed) he took the offer and moved to Richmond in 2004, as soon as his wife found employment with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

Within a short time, his "part-time" teaching duties mushroomed into a full schedule.

"The year before I taught AP Economics at Collegiate, there were nine students enrolled in AP Econ," says Wedge. "[After I began teaching], one section became two sections.

"Two sections became three sections . . . and three full sections became five full sections in 2009." In addition, Wedge also assisted on two textbook revisions and field-tested Ethical Foundations in Economics.

In December, citing his passion for the subject and his success with teaching, the Virginia Council on Economic Education (VCEE) named Wedge the Commonwealth of Virginia's Economic Educator of the Year.

"His enthusiasm," officials said, "has resulted not only in an increased number of his students taking AP Economics, but [in] 95 percent of his students [earning] a 'passing' grade of three or higher.

"Students say that Rob shines outside the classroom, too," officials added, "by giving them the opportunity to participate in extracurricular learning experiences such as the Fed Challenge, Econ Challenge, and Euro Challenge."

Paychecks, with deductions
Wedge attributes much of the growth in popularity of his classes to the success his students have had in the Fed Challenge and other economic competitions. Not only have students won a number of local contests; many have also gone on to compete nationally.

As for the reasons for his students' success, Wedge says, "I'm a big believer in creative ways of presenting material." Among the assignments in his class are frequent presentations – even music videos [see link below] – illustrating concepts.

What's more, Wedge employs a unique and somewhat controversial grading system. He pays his students for the work that they do in class.

"It's complicated and there is some adult resistance to it on Collegiate's campus, but it really works," he says. "Each month they receive a paycheck with Social Security, Medicare, and federal and state income taxes deducted."

Wedge also works the payment system into the 'class participation' part of the grade, providing bonuses to a student who offers a unique explanation or asks a good question, and slapping additional taxes on a student who lags in participation or doesn't meet standards.

"So," Wedge says, "my grading system and the content of the course are embedded with each other."

World to its knees
Despite having developed unique ways to keep his students engaged, Wedge says it is a constant challenge to hold their attention and "keep things fresh."

"There are so many other things out there that capture their attention. [They are] engaged in a lot of non-academic things all the time," he says, pointing out that Collegiate students are also required to participate in two sports. "The battle for spots in their minds and schedules can be tough."

Another challenge he must overcome is the misconceptions that students often bring to the classroom. One reason that Wedge designed his grading system the way he did was to dispel some of those misconceptions, especially regarding taxes and the budget deficit.

"The grading system gets them to see that a lot of what they hear about taxes is off base," he says. "As for the budget deficit and national debt, they don't realize what the sources of the debt and deficit are, so their approaches to 'fixing it' often miss the mark, too."

Although Wedge does not think that his current students are any more informed or ignorant than those he taught more than a decade ago, he does believe that due to financial innovations, students have to know more in order to succeed. Economics education is more important than ever, he emphasizes, and he is grateful that Virginia now has an economics and personal finance requirement for graduation.

In the days before Collegiate's spring break, he recalls, one student in particular underscored that importance.

As Wedge was showing his students the film "Too Big to Fail," about the financial crisis of 2008, he took frequent breaks to explain certain sequences. During one such break, a student exclaimed, "Holy Cow, this is really complicated. It almost brought the world to its knees and I've never heard of half of this stuff.

"Your class is an elective class," the student pointed out to Wedge. "So when is everyone else supposed to learn about this stuff?"

Resonance
Hearing such insightful comments and questions from his students, says Wedge, is just one of the things he finds satisfying about teaching.

"That question really stuck with me," says Wedge, "and will motivate me for the rest of this school year and beyond."

Among other rewards of teaching, he says, are the relationships he has built with students over the years – especially those who get involved in the extracurricular competitions. In some cases he has taken a chance on the students he selects to compete, but they have always risen to the occasion. Parents often thank him, he says, for giving their children the opportunity to compete with the best academically, as well as athletically or socially. "And that means a lot to me."

Wedge also enjoys the emails he receives from students who have graduated, asking about articles they are reading online or about something they are studying in college.

"I get these emails two, three, four years after they're out of my class," says Wedge.

"To me, that says that I did something that had some resonance with them for the rest of their lives."

To view a video created by Wedge's students, visit http://tinyurl.com/cf9mejf
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Brews and bites done right

Urban Tavern’s big, bold themes impress

The Urban Tavern opened in August, replacing the former Shackelford’s space at 10498 Ridgefield Parkway in Short Pump. Because of local and longtime devotion to Shackleford’s, Urban Tavern has some big shoes to fill.

Without any background information, I headed to the restaurant for dinner on a Wednesday night, two months after its opening.

On a perfect fall evening, four out of eight outdoor tables were taken, giving the impression that the restaurant was busier than it was. On the inside, a couple tables were taken, and a few folks were seated at the bar. > Read more.

A terrible, horrible movie. . . that’s actually pretty good

‘Alexander’ provides uncomplicated family fun
It’s not surprising in the least that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day doesn’t much resemble the book it’s based upon.

Judith Viorst’s 1972 picture book isn’t exactly overflowing with movie-worthy material. Boy has bad day. Boy is informed that everyone has bad days sometimes. Then, the back cover.

In the film, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad-ness is blown up to more extreme size. Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) has a bum day every day, while the rest of his family (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey) exist in a constant bubble of perfection and cheery optimism – to the point that the family is so wrapped up in their own success that Alexander’s being ignored.

So on the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander makes a wish: just once, he’d like his family to see things from his perspective; to experience the crushing disappointment of one of those no good, very bad days. Once he has blown out the candle on his pre-birthday ice cream sundae, his family’s fate is sealed: one full day of crippling disasters for all of them. > Read more.

Deep Run HS plans fall musical

Tickets for Deep Run High School’s fall musical production – Aida – will go on sale Nov. 3. The Elton John-Tim Rice pop opera, inspired by Verdi’s classic opera, tells the story of enslaved Nubian princess Aida, who falls for captain of the guard Radames, who is betrothed to the Egyptian princess.

Performances will be held Nov. 13-15 at 7 p.m. each day. > Read more.

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