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Principal Inspires Students to Learn

Glenvar Middle students meet with fishermen on the Chesapeake Bay in November.

Learning doesn’t have to be a dull, rote exercise, even in this age of Standards of Learning and Average Yearly Progress. So says Glenvar Middle School principal Dr. Julie Myers, recently named the 2010 Virginia Outstanding Supervisor/Curriculum Leader of the Year by the Virginia Association for Supervisors and Curriculum Development (VASCD).

Myers, who also teaches about curricula and instruction to future administrators in a graduate level program at Virginia Tech, was honored by the VASCD for a “commitment to effective instructional practices  … continuous professional growth and development [which provides] a culture of learning for students, staff and educators,” said VASCD executive director Ann Etchison.

Myers went to UNC-Greensboro for an undergraduate degree before earning a master’s at Hollins. She finished her PhD in educational leadership at Virginia Tech several years ago. A math teacher at Cave Spring High School for nine years, she went on to be the assistant principal at Cave Spring Middle School (1999-2005) before taking the principal’s job at Glenvar Middle in 2005.

Claiming that curriculum “is a very open field” when it comes to teaching the basics, Myers said that creating “meaningful experiences” helps children learn in more effective ways. At times you have to get outside the four walls of a classroom.

“You can’t just learn about math in a math class,” said Myers, “it has to be integrated into real life experiences – things that [have] meaning for them.”  A “green” club at Glenvar where “math skills are used to build gardens is one example of that meaningful experience,” according to Myers. Those students are now working with architects and engineers at Virginia Tech to construct a greenhouse on the Glenvar campus.

Last year students wrote folk tales about the Chesapeake Bay; they then communicated with students in that area and scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation via Skype to ensure that their yarns remained authentic. “With that feedback they were able to make them accurate,” said Myers. Students then created animated videos about the experience.

As a reward of sorts, Glenvar Middle students involved with the folk tale project had a chance to travel to the Chesapeake Bay last month, where they worked with fishermen there. “It was so much fun and they learned all about the conservation efforts in the bay, and the things that threaten the environment there,” said Myers. “They will always remember certain aspects of that trip.”

At least one student who aspires to be a marine biologist was “completely absorbed” by the trip to the bay. “We have a small window to capture their interest,” noted Myers. “It’s how you do it that makes the difference.” Students met residents from Tangier Island and conducted surveys they analyzed back at school. “It creates authentic learning opportunities for students and shows them that there are so many ways to learn.”

Myers said there are examples at other county schools where creative learning practices have taken place. “They help kids make it authentic. Every school could [share] similar stories.”  Working within the Standards of Learning mandates has meant that “we’ve been challenged to be more creative,” said Myers.

“Teachers didn’t go into teaching [because of] a certain test. That’s the quickest way to demoralize that passion for learning. How can we accomplish these goals – but make it something that celebrates learning? That is possible.”

“It was an incredible honor,” said Myers of taking the statewide award as Outstanding Supervisor/Curriculum Leader. Several teachers at Glenvar Middle and Roanoke County Schools superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange nominated Myers; Lange called her “a visionary and lifelong learner [who] inspires awe and respect from all those who know her.” Myers deflects some of the praise: “It’s really the teachers that deserve this award. To be honest. I was just blown away by it.”

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