Henrico’s Top Teachers – Sandra Fontes

In Sandra Fontes' classroom, every student is cherished as a unique individual with diverse talents to contribute in the classroom.

"I value and embrace diversity," said Fontes, "and I teach my students to respect and appreciate the fact that we are all different."

Although the tremendous diversity of her English as a Second Language (ESL) classes might seem daunting to observers or to other teachers, Fontes contends that providing a safe and caring learning environment and using instructional strategies that address students' different learning styles and needs are all that's required for every child to learn.

"I believe in a student-centered classroom where I am a mere facilitator in the learning process," Fontes said, "where the students are willing to take risks and make mistakes."

Technology is a valuable tool not only in helping to engage the children, she says, but in bringing the "real world" into the classroom and helping to build background knowledge and vocabulary among her ESL students.

In addition, she characterized her classroom as a strong learning community in which all – students and teacher – learn from each other and the passion for knowledge is contagious.

Enlisting the involvement of her students' families is crucial in creating this thirst for knowledge and passion to succeed, said Fontes, who noted that a big part of her job is keeping up regular communication with parents and "making sure they know the importance of their support and help in their child’s education."

Although many of her Johnson parents are limited in their English, they would be among the first to attest to the valuable role that Fontes has played in empowering their families.

As a colleague who wrote to nominate Fontes put it, she has made herself "an irreplaceable member of the Johnson community.

"She is available at the drop of a hat," the nominator wrote, "to help translate between our Hispanic families and the school community. She provides support for parents when they need help with outside resources. Mrs. Fontes does whatever possible to include all families in all school activities – even if it involves her going to their house and providing transportation.

"Often when the phone is answered at Johnson, all you may hear is a parent requesting 'Mrs. Fontes' because they know that she is their support system at school. She continually works past school hours to meet with families, often even on the weekend. She will occasionally convince her husband to meet with families on the weekends if she is unavailable."

Her colleague wrote that Fontes has been known to deliver food and clothes to families in need, and has taken students to dinner and to school functions they would otherwise be unable to attend.

"She helps families arrange medical appointments," added the nominator, "and will attend with the parents so that information will be clearly communicated."

All in a day's work, says Fontes, who hopes only that her passion for teaching and love of learning are passed on to her children each day.

"As a teacher," she said, "I have the opportunity to make a powerful impact on a child’s life. [Together with their parents], I can give them the confidence to embrace their dreams and to believe in themselves.

"I wish my students will remember me as a teacher who helped fill their bookbags with hopes and dreams."
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August 2017
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Southern soul and rock group The Ray Pittman Project will perform from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Lilly Pad Café, 9680 Osborne Tnpk. in Varina. For details, call 507-1997. Full text

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