Henrico’s Top Teachers – Nancy Staples

When students who speak limited English – or none at all – arrive in Henrico County with their families, many facets of life are new and challenging. Nancy Staples works to ease that transition for children and their parents alike.

Staples plays critical roles in the way Henrico’s public school system screens, places and educates its 3,000 English as a Second Language students and their families.

All ESL students are screened at the county’s ESL Welcome Center at Tucker High School to determine their level of English proficiency and proper placement. They receive ratings from 1 (not at all proficient) to 5 (highly proficient).

As director of the school system’s Parents as Educational Partners program at the Welcome Center, Staples coordinates meetings for parents of such students at their schools. The program is designed to ensure that parents understand the workings of the school system and have critical information provided to them in their native languages, while also offering them the chance to take English classes themselves.

As an ESL teacher at Holladay Elementary School – which has one of the highest percentages of ESL students countywide – Staples teaches English to kindergartners who may not be able to speak a word of it when they arrive in her classroom.

“People are always interested to find out how you begin with a student who walks to your door and doesn’t speak one word of English,” Staples said, “but surprisingly enough, it works.”

Splitting each week between the two roles can be daunting, but Staples embraces the challenge.

“It’s almost like two distinct jobs,” she said. “A lot of times they’ll overlap. I do enjoy having the variety.”

Her efforts have caught the attention of colleagues.

“Her lessons are rigorous and engaging. Her work with the PEP program ensures that parents have an understanding of of how the public school system operates while teaching English to parents,” one colleague wrote of Staples. “She embraces the diversity that helps define the Henrico community.”

Staples is in her 21st year with HCPS, having started as a teacher at Ridge Elementary School, which shortly thereafter experienced a boom in its ESL population, as its community blossomed with Eastern European immigrants and others. When that occurred, she achieved an ESL endorsement and became a full time ESL teacher at the school for five years before moving to her current roles.

A common misconception, she said, is that ESL teachers must be multi-lingual. While some may be, it’s not a requirement. They simply teach their students English, often beginning with simple greetings, and progress until the students have caught up with their classmates. Classroom lessons span topics from core subjects like math, science and social studies while also teaching students English at the same time. An average student progresses one level on the 1-to-5 scale per school year, she said.

“The ultimate goal is to have them leave the program and they don’t need you any more,” she said.

She recently presented a seminar to Henrico’s ESL teachers about various research, techniques and strategies for teaching their students how to read and also has served on state committees.

“She inspires new teachers while being the go-to person to many principals on working with [ESL students],” the nominator wrote.

Technology has enhanced the ability of teachers like Staples to connect visually with students who are still learning a new language. Interactive Promethean boards and iPads help bring to life words, concepts and history that otherwise may not have registered.

“When they’re learning about regions of Virginia or famous Americans, they just don’t have any sense of background,” Staples said. “There’s so much value to video streaming and visuals.”
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May 2017
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The American Legion Post 233, 8088 Recreation Rd. in Varina, will host a Bluegrass Show and Open Mic at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. Featuring The Front Porch Pickers. Anyone is welcome to play or sing. Admission is free. Food and drinks are available for purchase. Doors open at 5 p.m. For details, call Wayne Gilbert at 572-3124. Full text

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