Henrico County VA
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Henrico’s Top Teachers – Valerie Bryant

Short Pump M.S., Spanish
As a six-year-old, Valerie Bryant taught lessons to neighborhood children while she was still a child herself. She also created a library on her parents' front porch, complete with check-out cards for children who wanted to borrow books.

There was little doubt that she was headed for a career as an educator.

"I started out really early," she said. Her first professional teaching job came while she was still finishing her undergraduate degree at VCU and a position opened at the New Community School in Richmond.

Bryant, now a Spanish teacher at Short Pump Middle School, is in her 29th year as a teacher but still learning something herself every day.

"It's been great, and I'm not tired of it yet," she said. "Every year I feel like I'm getting better."

She's experienced Henrico from one side (Varina High School, where she taught Spanish and English from 1977-87) to the other (she began at Short Pump Middle 20 years ago, following a break to raise her own children).

Bryant's longevity is not lost on her students.

"Six years ago or so, a girl on the first day of school said, I hope you don't get mad or embarrassed, but you taught my sister 12 years ago," Bryant recalled. "Then another kid stood up in the back and said, 'You think that's bad – she taught my dad in the '70s [at Varina].'"

Her talent in the classroom isn't lost on her colleagues.

"She is an acknowledged leader in the Henrico world language community, and is considered by many to be a "master teacher,'" one wrote of Bryant. "Her commitment to her students' well-being surpasses her teaching ability, especially with those who are academically- challenged, and she is always searching for new and innovative ways to engage her students in the language."

Bryant adheres to a mantra she developed several years ago.

"I say I'm going to be fair but not equal," she said. "They know that they need to have their homework in on time, but if someone's dad has a heart attack and they were in the hospital all night, then I'm going to have leniency. Once they know I'm going to be honest that way, they believe me."

While some shy away from the middle school years, Bryant embraces them.

"[Students] have more energy, and they're really sort of just living between home and class and extracurricular activities," she said. "It's so contagious to watch them learn."

Some of Bryant's former students have gone on to become language teachers themselves – including several in Henrico, with whom she now serves on committees. Bryant takes joy in making learning fun for her students, having them act out various scenes in Spanish or Photoshop themselves into pictures of famous Spanish settings.

"She had a student who was autistic, but seriously loved music," a nominator wrote. "She gave him the opportunity to perform Spanish language songs in front of the class and encouraged an atmosphere of acceptance by the other students, making the student feel valued and competent."

Though much has changed since she began her career, much remains the same.

"Students are not different at all," she said. "Kids who are in eighth grade are still going to be acting like kids who are in eighth grade, because they are still experiencing growth spurts and going through other changes. That's what fun – you can kind of rely on that."
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Film industry training program planned for this weekend

The Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA), in partnership with the Virginia Film Office, will offer "Get Your Start in the Film Industry," a two-day seminar designed to prepare workers for film, television and commercial projects in Virginia. The course will be held Oct. 4-5 at the Workforce Development and Conference Center, 1651 Parham Road in Henrico, on the campus of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

The training will be taught by Gary Romolo Fiorelli, an accomplished assistant director for film and television projects, which include the television series Sons of Anarchy and ABC’s current drama Mistresses. > Read more.

The Boathouse to open at Short Pump Town Center

The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.

“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”

The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.

Getting a ‘mouf’-ful

Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.

Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?

Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.

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The Henrico County Community Author Showcase, a new program that connects writers and readers in the community, will begin at 7 p.m. and continue on Thursdays at various libraries. Vivian… Full text

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Henrico's Top Teachers