Henrico’s Top Teachers – Alice Robinson

You might say that Alice Robinson lives for this.

For 47 years, she has awakened early, often arriving at Mehfoud Elementary School before the sun does, frequently remaining until there’s almost no one left in the building.

During her nearly half-century as a teacher at this small Varina school, Robinson has thoughtfully and diligently helped thousands of students learn how to read – and perhaps more importantly – how to become good people.

"I believe that every child can be transformed into a masterpiece," she said.

There’s little that Robinson (now a resource teacher at the school who works as a reading specialist) has not seen during her lengthy career. While much has changed – technology and family structure are the two most evident differences to her – much remains the same as when she began her career teaching fifth grade in Caroline County as a 19-year-old graduate of Virginia Union University.

She imparts to her own students the same sense of love and care that one of her first teachers – Mrs. Burnett – provided her as a seven-year-old in a one-room schoolhouse in the backwoods of Spotsylvania County. It was then that Robinson felt her calling.

Burnett “cared for me as a person first,” she recalled. It’s a lesson she never forgot and one that she shares daily at Mehfoud.

“The things I remember most as a student were not the academics – they were how my teachers made me feel, my dreams that they fed into, how they supported me,” Robinson said.

Though she has no immediate family of her own, Robinson could count generations former and current students as her children.

"She has committed her whole life to making school a better place for students and in turn sending out students who will make the world a better place," a colleague wrote of Robinson. "Groups of students are impacted by her each day. We send 90 percent of our students to third grade reading on grade level. Mrs. Robinson is a big part of this success."

One former student became a principal in Northern Virginia. Another is a district attorney in Maryland. Another works at the United Nations. The list could go on indefinitely. These are the reasons Robinson continues to embrace her passion for teaching into her seventies.

"The rewards are not in the paycheck," she said. "The rewards are the people." It’s not by accident that she has remained for nearly 50 years at Mehfoud – the only school in the county that serves only kindergarten, first- and second-graders (students move to nearby Varina Elementary for third through fifth grades). It’s an ideal fit for her, with a structure that provides a comfort level for young minds, she believes, that may not exist elsewhere.

Because students today are so influenced by technology and the speed at which it travels, Robinson seeks to deliver information to them in an attractive, direct way that keeps their attention. She's taken courses at six additional universities through the years to sharpen her skills. She uses one- and three-minute fluency “packets” of words to help young readers master them and strengthen their reading abilities. And she makes sure they know how much she herself loves to read.

"If I ask them to read, they see me reading," she said. "The best teaching you can do comes through modeling."

What is most evident to those who come in contact with Robinson is her selfless devotion and tireless efforts on behalf of Mehfoud students.

"She greets them, loves them and helps them believe in themselves," her colleague wrote. "She has high expectations for each student and never lets them get by with less. She is at school before anyone else and leaves late. She works all summer using the data from the previous year to prepare for the students the following fall.

"She is truly the heart of Mehfoud Elementary."
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