Henrico’s Top Teachers – Kara Harrison

As a young child, Kara Beth Harrison was greatly influenced not only by the special teachers she had in the Salem City School system – "too many to name," she said – but also by her mother's passion for teaching.

"She loved her job," said Harrison of her mother. "She always had positive things to say about being a teacher."

As a teacher of special needs children who often have behavioral issues as well as a limited command of English, Harrison works with some of the most difficult children a teacher can have -- yet she easily relates to her mother.

In addition to enjoying her teacher-student relationships, and the challenges of motivating children to try their best, Harrison enjoys working with her colleagues.

"I am extremely lucky to have leadership in my school that supports its teachers 100 percent," said Harrison. "I come to school with a smile on my face knowing that my colleagues are there for me if I need help coming up with a new idea, a problem I can’t solve, or just for advice."

An observer who nominated Harrison praised her ability to get through to students that other teachers have difficulty handling. To help her students build self-confidence and acquire skills that may be lacking due to their family situations, Harrison spends extra time with them – often joining in their extracurricular activities such as running races. When some of her students lack the mental capability to move at the pace of the class, she helps them with studies during lunch or after school and "makes them feel as equals," says her admirer.

"Kara shows a constant awareness to the needs of these children and creates the discipline they lack in their home life," added her nominator, noting that she focuses on goals such as ensuring the children learn to listen and show respect for elders. "She sacrifices any free time during the day to put more time into the needs of her children. She always feels there is never enough time in the day in order to ensure the child is prepared for the future task that lie ahead."

Harrison finds her reward in striving to "make each day meaningful" for her students and in getting through to even the most recalcitrant students. One of her most memorable moments as a teacher, she says, occurred at the start of her first year teaching fifth grade,

"A young lady walked into my room [who] had a lot on her mind. She was very angry and frustrated, and had given up on school," Harrison recalled. "She would not speak to me, or even attempt her work for the first few weeks of school."

After many weeks of encouraging the student while puzzling over how to help her, Harrison was able to coax a few words out of her, and the girl began making attempts at her work. Before long, another breakthrough came in the way of a big smile; and by the end of the year, the formerly silent, sulky student had become an active participant in the classroom.

"I will never forget that brave girl," said Harrison. "That moment reminded my why I became a teacher in the first place. Making a difference and making a connection make it all worthwhile."

Harrison's nominator marveled that this teacher not only manages to succeed with hard-to-handle children, but that "she does this for pennies like any other teacher.

"Individuals such as Kara Beth Harrison are often overlooked in our society," summed up her nominator, "but without these individuals people like you or me may have not made it to where we are today."
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The Children’s Clothing Closet at Highland Springs United Methodist Church, 22 N. Holly Ave., will be open from 10 a.m. to noon every Tuesday and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday of the month. Clothing is available in sizes infant through teen and is free. Clothes are located on the second floor and no elevator is available. Full text

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