Henrico’s Top Teachers – Andrew Baker
By Patty Kruszewski, Citizen Managing Editor (Photo by Robert Thomas for the Henrico Citizen) 02/16/12
When Andrew Baker got married a year ago, he and his wife were showered with lavish gifts from their large Greek families. But it was a wedding gift from a student that won a place of honor in Baker’s home.
A transfer from South Korea, the student rarely spoke in class, and although Baker did all he could to make her comfortable, he says he was never sure if she liked school or his class because she was so quiet.
“My wedding was over winter break,” he recalls, “and when I came back I was met with an amazing note and two wooden duck figures on my desk.”
The note revealed that Baker had had a tremendous impact on his Korean student, who admitted that she was quiet only because she was embarrassed about her accent. Baker learned from the note not only that she liked history, but that she appreciated (as he put it) “my horrible attempts at learning some Korean language and trying to make her feel welcome.”
The ducks were from Korea, she told Baker, where they are traditional gifts given to a bride and groom for good luck.
“I don’t imagine,” says Baker, “those two ducks leaving their spot on my dresser for as long as I live.”
Another student – one of several who wrote to nominate Baker as a top teacher – said that Baker excels at making all students feel welcome and cared for, no matter what their differences. As a high school freshman, the student wrote, Baker “made me feel accepted, because he talked about how everyone is equal and that nobody should act better than anybody else.”
A parent nominator also praised Baker’s “compassionate” way of teaching and of making each student feel important.
“I have a ‘C’ student who is excelling in his class,” wrote the parent. “My daughter is willing to study harder for this class [and participate] to make a better grade. This is something she has never done before.”
Students say that Baker keeps them engaged by planning fun activities, making students act out skits that help the material “stick,” and using analogies and examples that teens can relate to and understand.
For example, Baker described Louis XIV to his students as “that person you all know that always has the right outfit and can start trends easily,” said one student. “He once told us,” said another, “that World War I was boy fighting and the Cold War was [like high school] girl fighting.”
Baker credits a number of educators with cultivating his drive to become a teacher, including professors at Hampden-Sydney College and his “incredible” teachers at Godwin High School (where he was close to then-principal John McGinty).
“After such a great career as a student, I don’t know how I could have contained the desire to pass that love of learning on to others,” says Baker.
From as far back as he can remember, says Baker, he has been an enthusiastic learner. The drive to share what he learns frequently prompts Baker, as a world history and psychology teacher, to push his students beyond the bounds of curriculum and broaden their understanding of other cultures.
“Most high school students in America,” he says, “have a fairly narrow view of how people live worldwide. Challenging this idea isn’t easy when confined by the four walls of the classroom. I try to incorporate digital learning and online exploration . . . to show students scenes of everyday life in other countries, so that their worldview really grows while taking my class.”
Despite having rough days now and then, Baker calls being a teacher the best job he can imagine. “We are given a chance to be as creative as we want, interact with future generations and hopefully leave some sort of intellectual legacy that will make the community a better place.”
“The best part,” he adds, “is even if a year doesn’t go well, you get to hit the reset button each September and start fresh.”
More than one member of those “future generations” wrote to attest that Baker has left his mark on their lives. One student nominator, in fact, said that taking Baker’s world history class completely turned her life around.
“[Before joining his class],” the student wrote, “I did not like history, or school for that matter, and I wasn’t a very moralistic kid. I was kind of a punk. But after going through Mr. Baker’s class, I realized how important (and cool) knowledge is. I love to read and learn now.”
Admitting that she had often cheated on her homework in other classes (“and did not think twice about it because ‘everyone was doing it’”), the student changed her ways after Baker helped her become passionate about learning and see the value in challenging herself.
It was because of Baker, she wrote, that she not only stopped cheating, but stopped using drugs and drinking. She acquired an interest in Russia, began teaching herself the language and began dreaming of traveling the world.
“He made us laugh, and think, and love to learn,” she said of Baker. “He was an incredible role model.
“Because of this man, I want to become a world history teacher . . . I want to do for other kids what he has done for me.”
More than 300 participants took the plunge for charity Feb. 25 at The Shops at Willow Lawn, raising $40,000 for the Special Olympics of Virginia as part of the 2017 RVA Polar Plunge Fest. Participants jumped into frigid water as part of the event, having raised money through donations leading up to the event.
“At Special Olympics Virginia, our vision is to inspire the first unified generation; a generation of people who respectfully include each other in the school, in the workplace, in the community,” said Rick Jeffrey, Special Olympics Virginia President. “Plunging this past Saturday included people with intellectual disabilities and those without; people of all ages, genders, races and religions; students and teachers; doctors and lawyers; military and law enforcement; one for all; all for one." > Read more.
CancerLINC's 11th annual "It’s in the Bag" event raised more than $50,000. The event, presented by Virginia Cancer Institute, was held at The Westin Richmond in Henrico Feb. 2 and was attended by more than 200 people.
“It's in the Bag” included handbag designer Thaddeus DuBois and his family from Syracuse, Ind. DuBois brought four handcrafted handbags, which were auctioned off and raised more than $4,000. Three autographed handbags from “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker also brought funds. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 02/28/2017 Features
Above, Varina’s Andre Watkins drives to the basket during the Blue Devils’ 52-51 win against Hampton in the Group 5A third-place game at Hermitage High School Feb. 25. Below, Tyrese Jenkins drives to the basket during the game. The Blue Devils (21-6 on the season), who earlier last month defeated Hermitage, 53-34, to earn a spot in the 5A state tournament, next will face Albemarle in that tournament. It is the program’s first trip to the state tournament since 2001 and first under fourth-year coach Andrew Lacey, who has turned around a team that was 6-14 during his first season. > Read more.
For the past two months, they showed up every day at the state Capitol, dressed in matching blazers and carrying pen and paper at the ready – the next generation of public servants carefully observing their superiors.
These young adults are known as pages. They are middle school and high school students from around Virginia who assist in everyday tasks at the General Assembly to experience firsthand how the legislative process works.
The program dates as far back as 1850, when the one page who worked was paid $2 a day. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 02/27/2017 Features
The Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) is seeking to raise $100,000 in 30 days to cover due diligence and closing costs associated with the historic Malvern Hill Farm. These include boundary survey, Phase I ESA, title search and insurance, recording fees, taxes, and legal work as well as a Section 106 review.
CRLC is scheduled to close on the purchase of the property May 31, and is asking community members to help support the site's acquisition. All donations will help CRLC leverage $1 million in matching funds. > Read more.
St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.
Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.
Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.
Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarHenrico County Recreation and Parks’ Adventure Series returns to the county Administrative Board Room at 4301 E. Parham Rd. from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The topic will be Mt. Kilimanjaro, commonly referred to as a “trekking peak” in the climbing community, requiring no previous experience or technical skill to complete successfully. Presenter Jeff Reynolds, an international mountain guide with over 34 years climbing experience, will discuss planning, fitness, logistics, gear, altitude and safety. For ages 12 and older. Admission is free. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. For details, call 652-1417 or visit http://www.henrico.us/rec. Full text