Henrico’s Top Teachers – Allison Bartholomay



Allison Bartholomay always knew that she wanted to perform in front of an audience. She just didn’t realize that it might be composed of third-graders instead of theater-goers.

Bartholomay brings a wealth of experiences to her Johnson Elementary School classroom each day. She grew up in France and England, majored in theater and Spanish in college and does her best to incorporate some of her own life into the lives of her third-graders on a daily basis.

During her decade as a teacher (which also included time at Dumbarton and Skipwith elementaries), Bartholomay has worked with a number of students with special needs, behavioral issues and those for whom English is a second language. The key to reaching every student, she says, is building the community of the classroom and convincing students that they’re all smart in their own ways.

“That’s tough because some students may not feel that way at first,” she says. “But once that happens and they believe in themselves, they realize that anything is possible.”

It’s her constant motivation to find ways to reach each student in her class that sets Bartholomay apart.

“Ms. Bartholomay makes her students get excited about every topic, even if it would not necessarily excite them to begin with,” a colleague wrote in a nomination letter. “She teaches 21st-century skills with ease, infusing creativity and technology, breathing excitement into the Henrico curriculum.”

In addition to her full-time job, Bartholomay also teaches a course at VCU about integrating the arts into elementary curriculum. She’s familiar with the topic because she lives it every day.

“Being a theater major has helped me reach all levels of students,” she says. “If a child doesn’t understand something on paper, we’re going to act it out. If that doesn’t work, we’re going to sing it out. We’ll go out on the playground and act it out, or we’ll go somewhere on my Promothean board.”

She uses song and dance to engage students, such as having them sing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Spanish and performing a song about the regions of Virginia with choreography.

To challenge students, she gives them a new word to learn each day.

“I choose the hardest words I can find for third grade,” she says. “Convivial. Sagacious. And they use them, and know what they mean. It’s a thrill for me to be able to teach them something and watch them take it on to someone else.”

Her students also write weekly goals for themselves, which they keep in mini folders on their desks and use to motivate themselves and to evaluate their accomplishments.

Bartholomay credits the environment in Henrico schools with allowing her to feel comfortable and confident trying new approaches in the classroom.

“Henrico County allows you to think outside the box,” she says. “They trust that you’re an expert in your field and you can take [students] where they need to be and more.

“I feel like I walk in every day, I want to have fun, and [the students] make my day fun. So I try to teach them so that they’ll be engaged. If I’m not having fun, then I don’t feel like I’m doing my job. I’m here to teach them content, but I also want to be that voice in their head – when they’re 12 and they don’t believe in themselves, or when they’re 15 and someone is trying to lead them down the wrong path – that gives them the confidence to do the right thing.”
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