Henrico County VA
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Top Teachers: Lourie Sledd

Freeman H.S., exceptional education
Lourie Sledd feels fortunate to be among a group of special exceptional education teachers in Henrico County.

But the parents of the students she’s taught feel fortunate that she’s been looking out for their children.

Sledd has spent her entire teaching career – more than two decades – in Henrico. She was inspired to work with intellectually disabled students by her sister, who taught such students in Henrico and Richmond before becoming a guidance counselor at Cosby High School in Chesterfield, where she works today.

Sledd landed at Freeman when it began its full-time program for intellectually disabled students 10 years ago.

Students in the program suffer from a range of disabilities, so she works to find ways to reach each one effectively. The program combines core academics with vocational and life skills. Some of her students also take mainstream elective courses at the school.

“Without Lourie’s leadership,” one nominator wrote, “the students in her class would be very isolated. Instead, they are part of the fabric of Freeman -- young people who attend plays, football games, talent shows; young people who have jobs all over the school and in the community; young people who have the opportunity to make connections with their peers and teachers all day long.”

That, according to Sledd, is her goal every day.

“My kids, I just see them every day walking through the door, and I think about the obstacles they must face before they walk through that door,” Sledd said. “Their bravery, all the challenges they face just keep me going.”

But she’s adamant that what she does is no more significant that what dozens of others of teachers in the county do.

“I am only one of 100 exceptional ed teachers who should get this [recognition], and I really mean this,” she said. “I know many special ed teachers who work late every day and then work all weekend.”

Sledd helped create the Career Pathways Club at Freeman, a program that allows mainstream and disabled students to work side by side selling spirit items in school and at sporting events while developing real-world business skills at the same time. She also is heavily invested in the all-star basketball league, which matches teams of disabled students from county high schools against each other in weekly basketball games.

To Sledd, the most visible change during her time as an educator has been the way that mainstream students have accepted and welcomed special education students into their lives. At Freeman, one of her students even was crowned homecoming king.

“That’s what they want more than anything, is friends,” Sledd said. “They’re just part of the gang now.”

Students with certain intellectual disabilities are permitted to stay in high school until the age of 22.

As a result, Sledd has taught some students for as long as seven years. She considers the best part of her job to be the realization that she’s helped her students thrive in school – and in life.

“They come in as immature teenagers and leave as young adults,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling knowing that you helped them along the way. Many of them will get jobs, be productive citizens and hopefully lead happy lives. Being part of that is very special.

“They’re just amazing kids. I get strength from them.”
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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