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April 11, 2014

Pamela Graves earns top teaching award from Post

Photo/Fauquier schools
Among her many activities, Pamela Graves sponsors the ecology club at Brumfield Elementary.
Being around horses and up in the mountains is where I’m rejuvenated.
By Karen Parkinson
Fauquier County Public Schools

A grateful parent describes Pamela Graves as “the teacher of a lifetime.”

County school officials announced Friday that Mrs. Graves has won the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award in Fauquier.

She has taught 20 years at James G. Brumfield Elementary School in Warrenton.

Another parent said she hopes all of her children will “get the Graves experience.”

“Students thrive in her classroom,” said another.

Former students rave about Mrs. Graves’ going to bat for them when they felt they had been written off.

One such student had been diagnosed with a 40-percent hearing loss which, though corrected through a series of surgeries, landed him in remedial reading classes and tagged as learning disabled.

“I worked hard with a tutor at home,” the student wrote. “I hoped that someone at school would notice. Finally, I found an advocate at school in my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Graves. She challenged me and fought for me. She helped me advance four levels in reading class and recommended my placement in a GT (gifted and talented) math class, where I excelled. She let me believe I could be a good student.”

That student went on to attend Mountain Vista Governor’s School, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Oxford University. He’s first-year student at George Mason Law School and in the top 20 percent of his class.

“I am grateful that she believed in me,” he said.

Another former student, now in eighth grade, said: “I am a student with special needs. I have cerebral palsy and difficulty reading and writing. Mrs. Graves was always there to give me extra help when I needed it. She was always very patient even when I would get frustrated. I had to work really hard in her class, but I made the A/B honor roll for the year that I was in fifth grade. …Mrs. Graves is a teacher that really cares about her students, and I will never forget her.”

Colleagues say the teacher has no idea how she has impacted the lives of students, parents and fellow teachers as well.

“I don’t think she ever realized how important she was in my life,” said a teacher-turned-administrator whom Mrs. Graves mentored. “She helped me become a stronger teacher and developed within me leadership qualities I didn’t know I had! …I don’t think Mrs. Graves really knows the lives she has touched, both colleagues and students.”

Another colleague said, “Mrs. Graves is an educator who not only meets, but far exceeds the [outstanding teacher] criteria. The irony is that she has no idea how much of an impact she has, not only on her students, but on every person she comes into contact with on a daily basis. Mrs. Graves, without question, has been the most influential person in my teaching career thus far.”

A parent added, “She had a lasting impact on both of our children.”

She may not fully know the far-reaching and long-lasting effects her teaching has had on others, but Mrs. Graves does know what it has meant to her personally.

“These past 20 years have gone by quickly, and I feel challenged, fulfilled and content in my career choice, she said. “I have and will continue to hold high expectations for myself, as well as my students.

“Each year, each new class, provides me opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the children I teach, and every year that I teach, I learn.”

The 55-year-old, who describes herself as “psychologically 38,” was born in Virginia and, as the daughter of a Navy man, lived in Kansas, California, Rhode Island and New Jersey as well She earned a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University and a master’s from Walden University and has additional graduate courses through the University of Mary Washington, George Mason University, James Madison University and the University of Virginia.

She married in 1981, the same year she graduated GMU. For a short time she worked for First Virginia Bank and then provided child care before and after school while raising two children of her own – Thomas and Joseph. When her older son started school at Margaret M. Pierce Elementary in Remington, she volunteered there, served as PTO president and substitute taught.

Pure and simple, “the kids” drew her into teaching in 1993.

“I enjoy the vitality for life that children have, and I prefer their fresh outlook and open-mindedness to the often cynical demeanor of adults. Kids are fun!” she said.

Mrs. Graves began teaching at Central Elementary School in Warrenton and moved to the new Brumfield Elementary when Central closed in 2001. The fifth-grade instructor also has taught fourth and sixth grades over the years.

She most enjoys “getting to know the children and seeing or hearing them experience the ‘Ah-ha’ moments, watching and being a part of their growing and learning experiences.”

Over the span of 20 years, she has served on textbook adoption committees and administrative interview committees. Mrs. Graves has served as lead teacher and curriculum designer at Camp Moss Hollow, a remedial summer camp near Markham for fifth-graders. She revised the fifth-grade math pacing guide, presented at workshops and co-chaired the environmental committee as part of the school system’s “Aspirations 2015 Strategic Plan.”

At Bromfield, she has served as sponsor of SCO and yearbook, teacher mentor, team leader and after-school tutor. She may be best known on the extracurricular level as volunteer sponsor of the school’s ecology club, RAD (Radiate Change), for the past 14 years. The club attracts 10 to 40 fourth- and fifth-graders each year.

Among their many accomplishments through the years, students in the club have created and maintained gardens and habitats at Brumfield, planted trees, initiated a vibrant recycling program and worked to curb pollution. She leads students and their parents on several hikes a year in Shenandoah National Park relating their activities to SOLs as well as building in the students an appreciation of the natural world. She also encourages students to participate in community service – from painting fencing and picking up trash along the Warrenton Branch Greenway to helping to eradicate an invasive species of plant along trails in Whitney Forest State Park.

In approximately 30 letters supporting Mrs. Graves’ nomination as the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher of the Year, colleagues, students and friends used dozens of superlatives to describe her.

During her free time, Mrs. Graves focuses first on family.

“And, boy, do I love being a grandmother,” she said. “I’m blessed to have a large and loving family, and I treasure the time I get to spend with them.”

Mrs. Graves said anyone who knows her would tell you, “She’s happy outdoors.”

She has an aged horse, an orphan she has hand-raised, and she enjoys volunteering at Eagle Hill Equine Rescue in Fredericksburg.

“Horses have been a significant part of my life for the past 40-plus years,” she said, even reciting a favorite Winston Churchill quote: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

She also frequently visits the mountains.

“Being around horses and up in the mountains is where I’m rejuvenated.”

When forced indoors, she enjoys listening to music and sometimes singing or playing her violin. “I also enjoy watching movies, HGTV, and doing my own home improvements.”

Mrs. Graves admits she was both “surprised” and “a little embarrassed” to learn she had been selected as the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher of the Year for Fauquier County.

“I am still undergoing a feeling somewhat of disbelief,” she said. “I don’t see myself as a lot of the letters describe me. I’m doing my job, in addition to all the volunteer activities. I feel that I’m a pretty good teacher, but I’m aware of my own faults and tend to judge myself more critically.”

She admitted the letters written on her behalf brought her to tears several times.

“They are actually motivating me to be even better,” she said. “I’m not good with getting a lot of attention or accepting praise for doing what I feel I should be doing in the roles I’ve taken on at my school. There are plenty of good educators who have put in the years I have, and many who have made remarkable contributions. I’ve learned from some outstanding teachers who have since retired, and I am learning now from the younger generation with their new energy and creative ideas. So, for me to have been chosen is very moving, and to sum it up, I am truly honored.”

About the Agnes Meyer Award
The Washington Post’s Educational Foundation established the Agnes Meyer Award to recognize teachers who exemplify excellence in their profession, encourage creativity and quality instruction, and contribute to the improvement of education in the Washington metropolitan area. The Post honors 20 teachers each year, one representing private schools and 19 representing public schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Each recipient receives $3,000 at a ceremony in Washington, DC.

Criteria include the nominee’s ability to instill in students a desire to learn and achieve, to understand the individual needs of students, to share subject matter effectively, to foster cooperative relationships with colleagues and the community, and to demonstrate outstanding leadership.

A local advisory team selected Mrs. Graves as Fauquier’s winner from among 12 nominees:

• Jennifer Armstrong, fourth-grade teacher, Thompson Elementary School.

• Leslie Bailey, speech pathologist, Miller Elementary School.

• Haf Corbin, reading teacher, Cedar Lee Middle School.

• Tony Dandrea, history teacher, Warrenton Middle School.

• Bill Davidson, technology and engineering teacher, Kettle Run High School.

• Allison Graves, music teacher, Smith Elementary School.

• Pam Graves, fifth-grade teacher, Brumfield Elementary School.

• Jim O’Brokta, world history and economics teacher, Liberty High School.

• Karen Perryman, special education teacher, Pierce Elementary School.

• Caitlin Scott, English teacher, Auburn Middle School.

• David Smith, government teacher, Fauquier High School.

• Jared Zangari, technology teacher, Taylor Middle School.
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