Henrico County VA
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Henrico’s Top Teachers – Karen Bowles

Hermitage Tech Center, veterinary science
As a licensed veterinary technician who worked in animal hospitals for 17 years, Karen Bowles became increasingly frustrated with the lack of qualified, trained technicians in the field.

“I wished for a class that would teach people how to do the job, so that we wouldn’t have to train them on the job,” she recalls.

In 2003, Bowles got her wish when Hermitage Technical Center started a veterinary science program for juniors and seniors. She was, however surprised by the teacher hired to run the program: herself.

“I had no intention of teaching it,” she says with a laugh. “I just wanted it to exist.”

Nine years later, the 44-student program is flourishing under Bowles’ leadership and has done exactly what she originally hoped it would – and then some. A number of current and former students hold jobs as veterinary technicians locally and elsewhere, while others have gone on to veterinary school. The program has been so successful that center officials recently added a second section because of high demand.

“It’s so cool when I call a veterinary hospital and one of my former students will answer the phone,” Bowles says. “That’s such a great reward.”

Bowles was a natural choice for the program because she had a teaching demeanor about her and had often been the one performing on-the-job training at the veterinary hospitals where she worked. She was encouraged to apply for the position and did so, thinking she’d be able to teach part time and remain in the working world part time.

That didn’t happen – the program’s demands are too rigorous – but Bowles doesn’t seem to mind.

“I can help these students who had that same dream that I had to become a reality,” she says. “The common thread is the love of animals. Every applicant lists that on their application. I always wanted to work with animals since I was 5, and most of these kids are the same way.”

In addition to her teaching role, Bowles also heads up the newly formed Tech Ethics Society at the center, through which about 80 students perform fundraising and community service projects.

“When observing her, one notices how organized and structured her class is and how the students function as a unified team when completing assigned tasks such as animal grooming, project presentations and surgical preparation,” a colleague wrote of Bowles in a nomination letter. “Her demeanor inside the classroom is the same as outside the classroom and the same with students and adults.”

More than a dozen animals – a cat, a rabbit, two gerbils, three ferrets, three rats, a hamster, a guinea pig, a bearded dragon and a chinchilla – live in the center, and Bowles brings her dog each day, giving students a wide range of real-world experience interacting with them. It’s not uncommon to see a student working on her laptop with a cat curled up in her lap, Bowles says.

The presence of the animals also serves as a calming influence for others in the center at the high school.

“Teachers will come visit the animals if they need the stress relief,” Bowles says. “Special needs students can come too, or sometimes we visit them and let them feed the animals. Sometimes a student will be having a bad day, and being around the animals can help ease the tension.”

One of the most tense moments Bowles herself experienced was during her first year of teaching, when the school was locked down because of a reported gunman in the building.

“I had 22 hysterical students that I had to pack into a small, dark room,” she recalls. “One was hyperventilating. One was claustrophobic. Several were crying. We had been trained in how to handle a situation like that, so I kept talking to them in a calm voice, telling them what we were going to do, and that everything was going to be alright.”

The scare turned out to be a false alarm, but it was an eye-opener for Bowles.

“That gave me the self-assurance that I could handle this, but it also made me realize that I’m a mom to 44 kids, besides my two at home. I probably see more of them most days than their parents do. It helped me to understand teenagers a little better.”


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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