Henrico County VA

Top Teachers: Stephanie Tucker

Crestview E.S., preschool
Years spent working in the mortgage industry left Stephanie Tucker with a vacant feeling. During a drive past a Henrico school one day, she saw a sign inviting applications for an instructional assistant position. She interviewed and soon had a job at Crestview Elementary working in one of the school’s Head Start preschool classes (now known as Federal Programs Preschool).

“It was like a light bulb went on,” Tucker said.

Six years later, she realizes every day that she made the right decision.

“As a kid, I always wanted to be a teacher. When I came back to that, I just knew this is where I needed to be.”

From her perch on the front line of preschool education, Tucker has seen the difference it can make for students.

“Preschool is such a critical age,” Tucker said. “You can turn on or turn off a child’s love of learning. If you’ve got a nurturing, safe environment, then you’re giving them one of the tools that they need to be successful.

“It’s really wonderful that the public is really embracing preschool as more than daycare.”

Though the program at Crestview, and those at other Henrico elementaries, pull students from different attendance zones, some of Tucker’s students have continued at Crestview. Several of her first students are now fifth-graders at the school whose continued development she has enjoyed watching.

“Mrs. Tucker rolls up her sleeves and brings joy and determination to the classroom,” one nominator wrote. “Her students are higher needs [students] but she does not see them as such. Her zest for engaging them is limitless.”

For Tucker, it’s a simple concept.

“Kids are kids, and their basic needs are that they want to be safe and happy, and they want to learn,” she said. “If you can provide that, then they’re successful.”

For the youngsters in her class, there is amazement in some of life’s simplest lessons, such as watching caterpillar larvae turn into butterflies or taking a nature walk.

“So many kids, depending on their background, that’s not happened in their life,” she said. “That’s a great experience. One of the neatest things about it is that kids that age are just ‘eyes wide open,’ unbiased about everything around them. Everything is exciting. I get so much from them by watching all those ‘ah-ha’ moments.

“One thing I think is important is that children absolutely deserve respect. They need to feel that they’re valued. Every child deserves that. Most times when you give a child respect, then you get that back from them.”
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