Henrico’s Top Teachers – Linda Henderson-Wagstaff

Linda Henderson-Wagstaff never intended to become a teacher, but she's always sought to help children however she could. The latter made the former inevitable.

Henderson-Wagstaff was content as a secretary at the New Bridge Middle School in Eastern Henrico when it opened in 2002 – her latest in a line of office jobs, following a college degree in office management. But the students at New Bridge – who were there because of their problems in traditional school settings – made a quick impact on her.

One morning, a student came to her visibly upset but didn’t share details about what was on her mind. The girl went to class, but was back in the office half an hour later because she’d been disruptive in class. Henderson-Wagstaff then learned that she’d been beaten at home earlier that morning.

“I thought maybe education was something I needed to get into,” she said, recalling the incident. “Those students were very troubled. They had behavioral issues. I thought maybe some teachers weren’t able to focus on the students, because you can’t always be counselor and teacher. But I want to know what’s going on with the child.”

So she went back to school, earned her master’s in education and began teaching GED classes at Varina High School to students who were on the edge of suspension or expulsion. That led her to a role as GED coordinator for the county, but when the school system’s non-traditional programs department was reorganized, she was placed at Fairfield Middle School as the school’s behavior interventionist in a program the school has dubbed “Creative Student Involvement,” or CSI. Through the program, Henderson-Wagstaff works exclusively with students who need additional support academically and also socially or behaviorally.

“The purpose of the entire program is to make students accountable,” she said. Students apply to the class as an elective, and Henderson-Wagstaff works with them by grade levels, teaching basic lessons in behavior that often turn into lessons in life.

“These children are not bad,” she said. “They’re just misunderstood. We can’t assume that because our children live this way that these children live a certain way.”

Her classes currently are learning from Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and she intersperses personal lessons from her life, such as the importance of respecting others even when you don't see eye to eye.

“She is open to sharing her personal stories to make life changes connections with her students," a colleague wrote of Henderson-Wagstaff. "She often goes above and beyond the call of duty to serve as a support for her students in and out of the classroom. She is full of energy and never, ever puts her students second."

Henderson-Wagstaff also leads Fairfield's mentoring program, which matches each of 50 students who need extra support with a faculty or staff member at the school. She assists with the cheerleading squad and regularly attends students' basketball and football games.

"It just makes their day," she said. "A lot of these kids don't have support. People ask, 'How do you get through to these kids?' My favorite saying is that people don't care what you know until they know that you care. Building a relationship makes a difference.

"Anything involving the kids, I don't care what it is, I will help."

Her impact has been felt school-wide.

“Not only does Linda have an impact on her students, she has made a huge impact on fellow teachers and staff,” a colleague wrote. “This year, she has stepped up to help with cheering, she stays late to help with other mentoring programs and she is often the last person to leave the building. She never complains or waits to praise. She is a true inspiration to the staff and students of FMS.”
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Internationally award-winning pianist Anna Nizhegorodtseva will play a recital of music at 7:30 p.m. at Perkinson Recital Hall, North Court, at the University of Richmond. The concert will include Beethoven’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Opus 7, Brahms’ Six Intermezzos Opus 118, and Ernesto Lecuona’s Suite Andalucia. Admission is free. For details, call 289-8980 or visit http://www.modlin.richmond.edu. Full text

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