Henrico’s Top Teachers – Theresa Kilmer

During any given school period, Theresa Kilmer might be teaching 18 or 19 different classes at the same time. It might be a bit much for others to track, but Kilmer seems to thrive on the constant activity.

Kilmer is J.R. Tucker High School's e2020 instructor, overseeing an online program that is designed to help students recover lost credits and get back on track to graduate on time.

Students arrive in her classroom just as they would for any other class, but once there, they each begin viewing different online lectures or taking quizzes or tests, based upon their individual needs and grade levels. The program has helped dozens of Tucker students pass courses they had previously failed – but not without a lot of hard work.

The format condenses an entire year's worth of material into an 18-week course, so students must be focused and diligent in order to succeed. That's where Kilmer comes in.

"This offers hope to kids who might not have had hope in the regular classroom," she said. "A lot of kids screw up in their freshman years. Then you're a year behind, you can't take driver's ed, and some of that puts them over the edge. This program gives them the opportunity to find success when they haven't been successful."

Students can pause or rewind lectures – but cannot fast forward them. They can take quizzes online, get immediate results and then retake them if necessary.

When students realize that they are in complete control of their future – and their ability to get back on track academically – they can regain motivation that may have otherwise been lost for good, Kilmer said.

"One particular student was able to catch up with five classes, which brought him up with his peer group for on-time graduation. With her experience with alternative education and being able to relate to her students, [Kilmer] impacts many," a nominator wrote. "This particular student shows great success because she is such a wonderful teacher. "

Often during the second semester, her classroom fills with seniors who need to make up courses in order to graduate in June.

"If they're not going to make it, they come in here and I make them make it," Kilmer said with a chuckle.

Her style isn't a complicated one.

"I get to know my kids," Kilmer said. "They come in sometimes for study hall. They know if they come in here that it's a working environment. It's relaxed. I e-mail them, text them – I'm their biggest cheerleader."

Though her background is in science (she went to college planning to become a veterinarian and later taught biology at Varina High School for a decade before spending eight years teaching math and science at New Bridge School), Kilmer has adapted to assisting students with a variety of subjects.

Eighty of her students from the first semester this year passed their courses, and 21 advanced one full grade level by doing so. More than 100 are taking courses through e2020 this semester. Kilmer offers incentives, such as nine-week completion luncheons, to keep them focused. She's even developed partnerships with businesses to help sponsor the events.

"They'll work for that," she said. "Little things like that keep them going."

Kilmer's dedication to her students is clear. One who would have graduated last year but who wasn't quite able to recoup enough credits in time wrote her a note at the end of the semester.

It read: "I will be back, and I will make you proud.”
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Virginia Repertory Theatre will present a musical retelling of the beloved American story “The Little Engine That Could” July 7-30 at The Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn. The classic family tale of determination and perseverance is reimagined through the heartwarming relationship between a young girl and her grandfather. The musical is 50 minutes long and is suggested for ages four and up. Tickets are $16. For a performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.va-rep.org. Full text

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