Henrico’s Top Teachers – Karen Clements

Byrd M.S., gifted enrichment
Karen Clements became a Henrico County teacher by stepping outside her comfort zone. Now she challenges her students at Byrd Middle School to do the same each day.

Clements, Byrd's gifted enrichment teacher, works with gifted sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, engaging them with projects designed to hone their talents while expanding their creative minds.

"A lot of people think it's very easy to be gifted, but I don't think it is, because people have such high expectations," she said. "[Gifted students] have this pressure, because they feel that school should be easy. I don't think it is."

Clements, now in her 30th year as a teacher, was born in England to "very proper" British parents and quickly developed a love for English.

"I was expected to take a book everywhere I went," she joked.

After the family moved to the U.S., Clements attended college in New York with aspirations to become a teacher. She eventually landed in the Richmond region with her husband and began teaching English at Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield, where she remained for 17 years.

"I went in because I loved books and language and writing so much," Clements said, "but I fell in love with the children."

She applied to work in Henrico several times in those years and finally was interviewed and offered a position in Henrico High School's International Baccalaureate program.

"I was a little bit nervous because I had been in the same place 17 years," she conceded. But she took the job and spent eight years at Henrico. Then she followed former IB program chair Sharon Pope when Pope became the principal at Byrd Middle.

"I had never taught middle school," she said, "but I thought, well, it's an adventure."

And her five years there have been exactly that.

Her classes provide students with big-picture concepts to explore. Sixth-graders, for example, "form" their own advertising agencies, researching how actual agencies operate and devising their own business plans. Eighth-grade students "create" restaurants – and develop and design menus, marketing plans and even functional websites for their fictional businesses.

"Karen involves the students in amazing group projects and engages them as young adults, not simply 'middle school kids,'" one nominator wrote. "The work is always interesting and thought-provoking and taps into the creative spirit in the children. Her words and actions have inspired, instructed and comforted my son."

Clements takes great satisfaction from helping students who may otherwise have been bored or frustrated in school develop their passions. She recalled talking with a sixth-grader whose test scores indicated that she was gifted – but whose classroom performances were poor – and being surprised when the girl told her, "There is absolutely nothing in my class that is relevant to me."

Being able to challenge students in similar situations with meaningful real-world concepts keeps Clements' own motivation high. And she hasn't stopped learning herself, either. Since arriving in Henrico, she's taken a number of continuing educating courses funded by the county.

"Henrico County invests an awful lot in teachers," she said. "They've sent me everywhere to learn."

Although she is closer to the end of her career than the beginning, Clements is still energized by her students and the daily experiences she has with them in class.

"I just love the part where you make a connection with somebody and you can give them a hope and a promise that reflects back to them what's wonderful about them," she said. "As long as I feel like the children welcome me. . . then I want to stay."
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The American Legion Post 233, 8088 Recreation Rd. in Varina, will host a free Music Jam at 5 p.m. every fourth Thursday of the month. Featuring country gospel and bluegrass music. Anyone is welcome to play or sing. Food and drinks are available for purchase. For details, call Wayne Gilbert at 572-3124. Full text

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