RICHMOND—Each year, Carol Bauer makes New Year’s resolutions—in August. Seeking specific ways to grow professionally, she resolves to, “transform my classroom into a lab for authentic learning experiences my students will long remember.”
A York County teacher since 1995, one way she has accomplished this is by bringing “Genius Hour” to her room. This is a program based on ideas used at Google and 3M to give employees time to be creative and do innovative research. Her fourth-graders have thrived in this format, creating model space stations and replicas of an Underground Railroad station, and conducting “interviews” with people like Thomas Jefferson and J.K. Rowling.
A parent of one of her students, who is also an executive at a local nonprofit, said, “Even with all the constraints put on teaching, she makes learning fun and exciting. She fascinates me with her presence and knowledge. Parents love to come to her class and learn with their children.”
That kind of innovation and commitment is why Bauer, a member of the York Education Association, is the winner of the Virginia Education Association’s 2016 Award for Teaching Excellence. She received the award during a dinner held April 8 at the Association’s annual convention as part of VEA’s recognition of individuals and organizations that have done great work in and for public schools.
Here’s a rundown of the 2016 award recipients:
Award for Teaching Excellence. Bauer has also earned National Board Certification, coaches a Lego League team, helped launch a school-wide exercise club, and spoken at conferences on creativity in the classroom, the use of Claymation, and other topics. She’s also been part of her Association at every level, serving as a local president, a member of the VEA Board of Directors, and as one of Virginia’s representatives on the NEA Board of Directors.
In the words of one colleague, “When she is at the helm of the classroom, no textbook is required. Just keep your eyes and ears open and get ready for a wondrous learning experience.”
Bauer will receive a plaque and a cash award of $500 and compete, as Virginia’s nominee, for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence and its $25,000 prize.
Friend of Education Award. This honor goes to an individual or organization that, through leadership, action and support at the state level, proves to be a true friend of public education and educators in Virginia.
Martha Wood of Albemarle County has made her influence felt around the Commonwealth, both as a 34-year career educator and as an active Association member. Whenever possible, she spoke publicly and lobbied tirelessly on behalf of schools, educators and students, and held numerous leadership positions, including local Association president and member of the VEA Board of Directors.
Since her 1993 retirement, Wood has been instrumental in launching both the Virginia Education Association-Retired and the VEA-Retired Council, and she has served as president of both. Her name has become synonymous with active retired membership at both the state and national levels.
Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. Robbie Jones of Christiansburg Middle School in Montgomery County is the 2016 ESP of the Year. As her school’s head custodian, she’s responsible for the cleanliness of her school, opening the building every day, ordering and stocking supplies, conducting daily maintenance checks, providing security around the building, and being on call for alarm and HVAC emergencies. Not only that, she does cafeteria duty, too!
She also found time to lead a successful effort to defeat the privatization of custodial work in the Montgomery County schools, helped maintain an incentive program for ESPs, and fought for a three-year program to correct the salary scale for all school employees.
In addition, she’s served as vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association and is now the president-elect, the first support professional to hold that position in MCEA.
Fitz Turner Award for Outstanding Contributions in Intergroup Relations. This award is named for the former president of the predominantly black Virginia Teachers Association, which merged with VEA in 1967. It honors an individual or organization that’s contributed to the enhancement of human and civil rights in Virginia.
This year’s winner is Misunderstood, a nonprofit group in Halifax County with a lofty mission: to educate and train young men, promote intergenerational relationships, and help prevent juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, gang involvement, and dropping out.
Misunderstood holds monthly “talk sessions” with young men ages 10 to 18, helping them build the kind of character traits they’ll need to be positive influences in their schools and neighborhoods.
The young men of Misunderstood have volunteered at the county’s social services department, an elementary school, with Habitat for Humanity, at a fundraising event to fight sickle cell, a local hospital, and as Salvation Army bell-ringers. They hold an annual Mother’s Day dinner, learning how to dress formally and honor and serve mothers. And they even sponsor free back-to-school haircuts for local students.
VEA-Retired Distinguished Service Award. This salutes a retired educator who has made significant contributions to the growth of the active and retired Association, the promotion of public education, and the welfare of public educators.
Katherine Hairston of Martinsville was an active member of the Henry County Education Association during a long and outstanding career as an elementary school teacher, and served for four years as HCEA president.
After retiring in 1994, she organized a chapter of retired educators in Martinsville and Henry County and has been its president for many years. It’s grown to include over 60 members. She’s also known for her devoted work at both VEA and NEA conventions. At NEA conventions, she is often found planting flowers and working at schools being given a makeover through the Outreach to Teach project.
2016 Political Activism Awards were also presented to the Chesterfield, Giles, Loudoun and Prince William Education Associations in honor of their committed, public efforts to advocate for local students and schools. The Loudoun, Spotsylvania and Halifax Education Associations received 2016 Community Advocacy Awards for their participation in community partnerships and projects.