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Citizen seeks HS correspondents

Are you a high school student with an interest in covering your school's sports teams for the Henrico Citizen? Do you know a student who would be interested?

The Citizen is seeking high school correspondents to provide coverage throughout the school year on HenricoCitizen.com.

Henrico’s Top Teachers – 2013

Our third annual ‘Henrico’s Top Teachers’ section profiles 20 outstanding educators in Henrico County.

Readers – including students, parents, grandparents and colleagues – submitted nearly 200 teacher nominations last fall, and our staff faced the difficult task of paring those nominees to just 20.

Each of these teachers has, in his or her own unique way, touched hundreds of lives and helped mold the future of Henrico County. We are proud to tell their stories in this special section.

We salute each one – and the many other deserving teachers who give selflessly each day inside – and outside – their classrooms.

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Connie Kelly

You might say that education is in Connie Kelly's blood. If she needed to talk to the principal of her elementary school in Illinois, she could do so over dinner each night – he was her father. Her mother also was a teacher.

So perhaps it was no surprise when, after having children, returned to finish her college education and begin her own teaching career in her mid-30s.

"I've been loving it ever since," she said. "I wouldn't do anything else."

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Sandra Fontes

In Sandra Fontes' classroom, every student is cherished as a unique individual with diverse talents to contribute in the classroom.

"I value and embrace diversity," said Fontes, "and I teach my students to respect and appreciate the fact that we are all different."

Although the tremendous diversity of her English as a Second Language (ESL) classes might seem daunting to observers or to other teachers, Fontes contends that providing a safe and caring learning environment and using instructional strategies that address students' different learning styles and needs are all that's required for every child to learn.

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Valerie Bryant

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.

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Karen Nowicki

Because Karen Nowicki's parents grew up during the Depression and did not have an opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, Nowicki was showered with opportunities to take dancing and acting lessons and learn to play the piano and flute.

"I never would have guessed back then how often I would use these skills in my career," she said, describing the ways in which she has incorporated drama into her classroom, played piano to accompany the school chorus, and choreographed dance routines for field days, chorus concerts, and talent shows.

Being able to incorporate her own talents and interests into the classrooms, Nowicki believes, is one of the most interesting aspects of being a teacher. "It allows you to use all of the skills you have developed in your lifetime," she said. "It keeps the fun in teaching."

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Rita Roberson

Students at Ratcliffe Elementary School in Eastern Henrico – and even those who have moved on to middle school and beyond – know that they'll always have a friend and mentor in Rita Roberson.

Roberson, a fifth-grade teacher who has spent her entire 20-year teaching career at Ratcliffe, takes pride in both roles.

"I may be their teacher for just a short time, but I'm always going to be there for them," Roberson said.

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Charles Futrell

Several students wrote to nominate Charles Futrell as a top teacher, citing his skill at developing fun study guides that motivate students to learn and his ability to make classwork relevant to his students' interests.

"He always finds cool ways to help us remember American history," wrote one student.

"He made learning easy for me and a lot of my classmates," said a student who had him for civics – adding that Futrell is "super funny."

"He makes school fun," said another student, "but still teaches kids at the same time. He teaches kids [in] ways other teachers don't, by connecting stuff to stuff kids like."

Henrico’s Top Teachers – Emily Stains

Emily Stains' favorite day of elementary school was Take Your Daughter to Work Day. That was when she got to accompany her mother to school, sit quietly in the back of the classroom, and watch her mom teach.

"I was absolutely in awe of her presence, compassion, and rigor in her classroom," Stains recalled, adding that at home, her mother was always surrounded by books and papers, preparing lessons she taught as an adjunct professor for Penn State.

A high school English teacher, Mr. Oswalt, also influenced Stains. In college, a special professor allowed her to take leadership roles and helped her raise funds to attend national conferences for aspiring English teachers. Today, widely praised and respected as a teacher who "goes the extra mile for her students," Stains clearly has taken her early mentors' lessons to heart.

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