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Top Teachers: Matt Togna

Tucker H.S., 10th-12th grades
All teachers have their share of embarrassing moments, and Matt Togna is not shy about sharing a memorable one of his – which occurred during his first months of teaching.

One lab day, while preparing for his class to use their Bunsen burners, Togna turned on the main valve for the gas line while in another classroom eating lunch. Unbeknownst to him, a student fiddling with the gas valve had left it open – which led to a classroom full of gas and the need to move to another teacher’s room while his was vented.

“[The teacher] made me wear a sort of ‘dunce’ cap,” Togna said, “while I taught my class in her room. She’s been at Tucker for a long time, so she could do that to the new guy. Thanks, Ms. Selden!” 

The last thing his students would label Togna, however, is a dunce. One student called him “one of the smartest, and brightest minds that I know of in Henrico County” and adds that classmates agree Togna is “the best teacher we have had in all of our years K-12.”

His students say that Togna makes difficult courses such as AP and college prep chemistry interesting and easier to understand. Students know they can drop by his classroom any time to get help, and they are inspired by his energy, work ethic, and passion for his job.

“He puts forth 120 percent effort into making classroom time fun, enjoyable, and informative,” wrote one student. “For heaven’s sake, the man arrives at school at 7 a.m. every single day [and] doesn’t leave until 6 p.m. – more than two hours after school ends!”

Togna finds rewards in those long hours, however, whenever he sees a student truly grasp the meaning of an academic challenge. He mentioned a recent incident in which a student critiqued her own lab data and demonstrated that she wanted to understand her mistakes and improve her lab process. “She doesn’t want the right answer simply to get an ‘A,’” said Togna. “She wants to get better!”

In the same vein, he said, “Of course it’s great when a kid finally ‘gets it.’  It’s even more rewarding when they want to know why it’s the right answer.”

Motivating students can be tough, he admits, when difficult tasks such as working through math problems and balancing chemical equations are involved. “It’s so easy to throw in the towel when it gets hard.”

What’s more, he said, a teacher has to remind students constantly of the big picture. “Kids often ask the question, ‘When am I going to ever need this stuff?’

“Well,” Togna responds, “many of you won’t, and that’s okay. Again, it’s about the process of learning and working through something challenging.” 

Above all, said Togna, he has one hope for his students. “It’s that when they wake up in 20 years they enjoy getting out of bed and going to work. That’s how I feel [about teaching]. I want them to have that same enthusiasm for whatever it is that they do.”
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

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.

Lakeside microbrewery beginning to take shape

Original Gravity gets the green light to move forward with relocation, expansion into larger space

A Lakeside home-brewing shop has felt the gravitational pull toward the booming craft beer scene.

Original Gravity, a shop that sells beer and wine kits for homebrewers, has just been given the green light to start work on a microbrewery.

Owner Tony Ammendolia is expanding his 1,000-square-foot shop in Lakeside Town Center to 5,000-square-foot digs a few doors down to add a brewery and expand his supplies.

Ammendolia opened the home-brew supply store in November 2011 and since then he said business has taken off.

“I think I outgrew this place in the first year,” Ammendolia said. “We’ve seen steady growth and I’ve been looking for a place to expand to move the shop to get more square footage.” > Read more.

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