Henrico’s Top Teachers – Catherine “Kitti” Huber

You might say that Skipwith Elementary is home to Catherine “Kitti” Huber, and not just because she attended the school as a child or because she’s taught there for 12 years – or even because her daughter, Tara, also has taught there for the past four years.

In reality, Skipwith is home because of the students she’s taught and the community she’s watched grow up.

“I’ve been in [teaching] long enough now that many of my students have become adults,” says Huber, who teaches second grade at the school and whose career spans nearly three decades, including 28 years in Henrico County (at Ratcliffe and Fair Oaks in addition to Skipwith). “One of my first-graders is a professor in college now. I’ve watched little people become big people. It’s really amazing sometimes how similar the adults who come back to you are as the children you taught.”

One of the great joys of teaching young students, Huber says, is witnessing their reactions when they realize they’ve learned something. Reading, in particular, often draws the most noteworthy reactions.

“They normally realize that they can read when they’re not in school,” Huber says. “I’ve had so many kids come in one day and say, ‘Guess what happened to me this weekend!’”

When Huber’s own children attended Skipwith, she worried that its lack of diversity might create a world view for them that was too narrow.

“And now we’re one of the most diverse elementary schools in the whole county,” she says.

Huber recalls a snack break in her classroom several years ago, during which a half-dozen students – each a different ethnicity – sat down together and passed a small chalkboard around, taking turns writing “Hello” in their native languages.

“I watched those kids and I thought, They’re taking turns, they’re sharing, they’re relating to each other. If we could do this everywhere all over the world, all the issues that we have could be resolved.”

To parents and colleagues alike, Huber’s ability to motivate students is second to none.

“She challenges her students to think and solve problems instead of just memorizing facts,” one parent wrote in a nomination letter. “The skills they are learning from her will last a lifetime.”

Huber challenges her students to make any situation a learning situation. She intentionally makes spelling and grammatical mistakes on letters home and asks students to identify the mistakes, correct them and write both pieces of information on an index card. Once they’ve turned in 10 cards, they earn 10 minutes of free time.

Students who complete reading comprehension tests as part of an ongoing accelerated reading program earn a free t-shirt after they’ve completed a specified number. Those who earn their shirts before Huber herself does receive a break from homework. Three already have done so, and one student didn’t stop there.

“He’s been lugging around this 412-page book,” Huber says.

Huber also has played an integral role in the school’s Destination Imagination program (formerly Odyssey of the Mind), a program that encourages teamwork, problem solving and creativity by presenting challenges for teams of students to complete during a period of several months. She coached the school’s team in the 1980s as a parent, then started a team at Ratcliffe as a teacher and re-started the Skipwith program when she returned to the school. Today she serves on the Destination Imagination regional board.

Huber meets a group of friends once a month for lunch. Most are retired teachers and former coworkers of hers, and they often wonder why she hasn’t joined their ranks yet.

“Everybody is saying, Isn’t it time yet?” Huber says. “And I don’t think it is.”
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Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) will sponsor a screening of the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress, and the Science of Hope” from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Hospital in Room 164. “Resilience,” the companion film to “Paper Tigers,” chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who are using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease. A short discussion will follow. Admission is free. To register, visit http://tinyurl.com/ResilienceScreening. Full text

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