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Henrico’s Top Teachers – Emily Stains

Varina H.S., English
Emily Stains' favorite day of elementary school was Take Your Daughter to Work Day. That was when she got to accompany her mother to school, sit quietly in the back of the classroom, and watch her mom teach.

"I was absolutely in awe of her presence, compassion, and rigor in her classroom," Stains recalled, adding that at home, her mother was always surrounded by books and papers, preparing lessons she taught as an adjunct professor for Penn State.

A high school English teacher, Mr. Oswalt, also influenced Stains. In college, a special professor allowed her to take leadership roles and helped her raise funds to attend national conferences for aspiring English teachers. Today, widely praised and respected as a teacher who "goes the extra mile for her students," Stains clearly has taken her early mentors' lessons to heart.

"She challenges her students in class," wrote a colleague in her nomination, "but also helps them outside of class [with filling out] scholarship applications and getting focused for college." To encourage her students to apply for scholarships, she offers extra credit for every application turned in.

Stains also is heavily involved in the school community, serving as senior class sponsor, AP teacher, and coordinator of a pen pal program for the county. "She is the 'go to' teacher when something needs to be done," wrote a colleague. "Her unselfish attitude sets her apart."

"She doesn't miss a single football game for the Varina Blue Devils," added a nominator. "She is enthusiastic in and out of the classroom."

When students see Stains so involved in activities on campus, say her fellow teachers, "she is the drive for students to get involved. Ms. Stains always has a smile on her face so when students see her, they are excited to learn and excited to come to school because her personality is made of gold." Many students, wrote her colleagues, consider Stains their "school mom."

Stains would be the first to say, however, that mothering her students does not mean coddling them. "I often tell my students that in my room, easy is not an option," said Stains. "We make 'easy' possible through hard work; hard work makes dreams possible."

Among the daily challenges of teaching – which Stains calls a "labor of love" – are helping her students make their education a priority, she said – "instead of an extracurricular activity."

Asked to recall some of her rewarding moments as a teacher, Stains mentioned a student athlete who took her AP course – his first – to strengthen reading and writing skills before he went to college. He spent every study hall in her classroom working through assignments, and today is a successful university student.

She noted that her AP English class, which now includes 91 seniors, consisted of only 13 students in the first year. That year, the day after the May test, she received an e-mail from a mother whose son had struggled with the concepts but persevered; the note thanked Stains for inspiring him to work toward something he had initially believed was impossible.

"She told me," said Stains, "'It’s amazing how one person can change a life,' [and] thanked me for being that person for her son."

Another message Stains cherishes was written by a sophomore who had passed her SOL with an "advanced" rating, and wanted to thank Stains for teaching her not only the content, but how to study and be more engaged in her education. "She told me she never liked English," Stains said, "and couldn’t understand how to read effectively, but [with Stains' help] she read four books in two weeks.”

That student, she added, now sits in her AP English class; and her letter sits in Stains' desk drawer – "for the moments I need encouragement."

A final note that Stains has saved is from a former student who was assigned in another class to create and deliver a speech dedicated to someone who made an impact in their lives.

"Attached was the incredibly beautiful speech," said Stains, "recalling such things as how I read my students Dr. Seuss’s Oh! The Places you Will Go! on the first day of school, to tutoring sessions that lasted over an hour . . to how she majored in elementary education because I inspired her to become a teacher. . .

"She wrote how my passion fueled hers [and] that the times in my class were her 'most joyful' and 'the best parts' of her days. To be honored in this way is such a blessing to reinforce that I am doing exactly what I should be, exactly where I am needed."

Stains summed up that having a community entrust her with its most valuable assets is not a job she takes lightly.

"Teaching is a job for the strong-willed, the innovative, and the brave because no two days, no two classes, are ever the same," she said. "I hope I inspire my students to aspire for excellence in all that they do -- and remember to reinvest in their community for the next generation."
Community

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Journey to mediocrity

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ fails to capitalize on tasty concept
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a curious little Romeo and Juliet of a film. A family, forced out of their native India, begins a trek across Europe.

The family’s sole mode of transportation sputters and dies in a sleepy little French town, but the town’s food culture is high, and that’s a perfect place for a family of restaurateurs to settle down. There’s only one problem – the family’s rustic “Maison Mumbai” is right across the street (a hundred feet away, if the title didn’t clue you in) from a prestigious French bistro with a Michelin star, run with an iron fist by the dreaded Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, pictured).

It’s here that a particular Romeo and Juliet story begins to develop, with Hassan (Manish Dayal) on the Indian side and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) on the French side. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy the final days of summer with comedian Guy Torry, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour or mystery writer Mary Miley Theobald at Twin Hickory Library. Another great way to welcome the beginning of fall is to check out the UR Spider Football season opener with man’s best friend. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

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Henrico's Top Teachers