Henrico’s Top Teachers – Alexandra Mendez-Zfass

While some might point to the challenging situations many Highland Springs E.S. students face at home as reasons why they may struggle to succeed academically, fourth-grade teacher Alex Mendez-Zfass seeks points of common ground in order to ensure that they do. And she calls upon her own at-times curious academic struggles as a reminder that there’s more to every student than meets the eye.

Though she achieved mostly high grades overall at the Collegiate School, they came with much difficulty, many test re-takes and despite poor writing grades that resulted in frequent meetings with teachers.

“My fourth-grade teacher was very instrumental in building up my confidence and making me realize that my brain was special the way it was wired. That gave me the confidence to work through it.”

It wasn’t until an auto accident years later and the subsequent series of tests that Mendez-Zfass learned she was dyslexic.

“It was such an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” she recalled. “It was like, ‘Oh, thank you – I get it!’ It was empowering to find out, but it was also, ‘Ok, nothing’s wrong with me and this is just something that I’ll work with.”

Though she entered the University of Virginia “100 percent convinced” she was going to become an attorney, she traded that goal for the idea of a career in social work, helping children.

Upon graduation, though, she felt that was a better way to address children who had problems.

“I wanted to be the solution so there wasn’t a problem,” she said. So she became a teacher.

She believes that she found her destiny at Highland Springs – though it hasn’t come easily.

“I walked in there Day One [in 2012] thinking I was going to change their world and they were going to love me, and that wasn’t the case,” she recalled with a laugh. “We ended up having a great year, but they kind of taught me that where we start is not going to be where we finish.”

Finding ways to reach children who come from troubled upbringings, as some at Highland Springs do, didn’t come with an instruction manual.

“There are no classes on how to be a teacher and a mom and a therapist and a friend,” she said. “You’ve got to learn it on the job.”

But she’s proven a quick study, just the same.

“Mrs. Mendez goes above and beyond to reach every single one of her students,” a parent nominee wrote. “She nurtures not only their academic success, but their social and emotional growth as well. Students in Mrs. Mendez’s class are greeted each day with a hug and a smile, and she is their cheerleader as well as their teacher throughout the school year. She provides holistic support so that all students feel comfortable, safe, and able to learn in her classroom.”

Said Mendez-Zfass: “All my kids really just want someone to love them, to relate to them, to structure their day, to be consistent with them. If you can tap into that early in the beginning of the year and have them trust you and feel safe with you, then they will trust that your decision, good or bad, however consequential, is the right one.

“Even the toughest kids from the roughest backgrounds want that love, want that structure. If you can give that to a child, you can get anything out of them.”

That approach helped earn her the Henrico County Public Schools’ First Year Teacher of the Year Award in 2013. Though she is currently out on leave while she awaits the birth of twin boys sometime this summer – and though she will miss all of the 2015-16 school year as well – she’s already discussed her future with Highland Springs Principal Shawnya Tolliver.

“I told her it’s Highland Springs or bust for me,” she said. “I cannot see myself anywhere else.

“I can’t leave the impact that I hope that I’m making on my kids. I always say, on Day One, ‘You’re my student and I love you, and that will never change. I mean that with every molecule in my being. They don’t believe me on Day One, but by the end of school, they believe me. I can’t leave knowing that there’s more students who need to hear that.”
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Henrico Master Gardener training program accepting applications through Oct. 27

The Henrico County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its next volunteer Master Gardener training program, which provides instruction in all aspects of horticulture.

Applications for the 2018 training program will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 27. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 22. > Read more.

Henrico Schools to host Oct. 30 job fair

Henrico Schools will host a job fair Oct. 30.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairfield branch library, is designed to attract potential full-time and substitute registered nurses, instructional assistants, bus drivers and school nutrition workers. > Read more.

Henrico Police to participate in ‘Tip a Cop’ Oct. 21

Henrico County Police Division and the Virginia Division of Capitol Police are participating in “Tip-A-Cop” to Support the Special Olympics Saturday, Oct. 21.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. that day at Red Robin, 11784 West Broad Street, members of the two agencies will be working for tips as a donation to the Special Olympics. > Read more.

Participants sought for ‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’

The Richmond Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held Saturday, Nov. 4, at Markel Plaza in Innsbrook, and the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Richmond is seeking participants.

The event, one of three walks the association will hold in its service area this year (the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck walk was held Oct. 7 and the Fredericksburg walk Oct. 14) raises money to help the association fight the disease, which affects more than 26,000 people in the metro Richmond region. > Read more.

Fairfield meeting Oct. 25 to focus on cybersecurity

Henrico County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman and Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton will hold a constituent meeting Wednesday, Oct. 25 to discuss cybersecurity.

Thornton also has invited candidates who will be seeking election to local offices on Tuesday, Nov. 7 to introduce themselves. > Read more.

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October 2017

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The Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church, 11421 Gayton Rd., will host a Community Chili Cook-off from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Music provided by the Wild Honey Band. Admission is $10 per person. Open to the public. All proceeds benefit FeedMore. For details, visit http://www.thegaytonkirk.org. Full text

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Henrico's Top Teachers

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