Community Foundation announces 2020 Dawbarn Awards winners: Virtual ceremony set for May 26

For 26 years, the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge has honored a select group of remarkable individuals who have inspired, encouraged, and fostered learning in the public schools of Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County.

Each individual currently receives $10,000 and the enduring distinction of having been named a Dawbarn Education Award winner.

In March, our world began to change dramatically due to concerns surrounding the pandemic, and no one could have imagined that when Gov. Ralph Northam announced the school closings that our students, teachers, staff, and administrators had already shared their last day together prior to Spring Break.

And so, perhaps these pillars of our community need our thanks and applause now more than ever.

The Dawbarn Education Awards Ceremony, originally scheduled for April 7 at the Wayne Theatre, has been postponed until a time when the award winners, their families and friends, colleagues, and community members can safely gather to celebrate this extraordinary cohort of educators.

On May 26 at 3 p.m., the Foundation will celebrate its 2020 Dawbarn Education Award recipients on social media with exclusive videos and interviews highlighting their contributions and leadership.

To stay informed about this event, follow the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Until then, be safe and find your own special way to thank our teachers.

2020 Dawbarn Education Award Recipients

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Leola Burks is the principal of Berkeley Glenn Elementary School. She began her career as a music teacher 31 years ago and has dedicated herself to Waynesboro Public Schools since 1996. She was the Director of the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra’s Strings School, is the co-founder of the Waynesboro Public Schools summer Music Camp, and has served on several boards and advisory committees throughout the years. She has been named Teacher of the Year twice.

Burks “fulfills every role from custodian, lunch server, classroom teacher, all the way up to principal. She will wear the hat of any person in the school simply to help reach the needs of the students. Everything she does is a selfless act of love and kindness,” says her nominator.

Burks was asked what she missed most in this time away from her students.

She said, “I miss hearing the students singing in their classrooms, hearing them reading aloud, watching their readers theater, talking with them about how their day is going.  I long for the day that we can open our doors for students to return to school with a rejuvenated energy and excitement, and a renewed commitment to changing lives.”

Heather Campbell is a third grade teacher at Bessie Weller Elementary School in Staunton.  In her eight years of education, she has received her certification in Virginia Children’s Engineering and certification in Mindfulness. She has been awarded numerous grants to support her classroom and school. She was recognized as Bessie Weller’s Teacher of the Year for the 2018-2019 school year and she’s currently working on her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction.

A former student wrote the following about Campbell:  “I remember from last year when Ms. Campbell picked me to talk at the City Hall building downtown. I did not have a ride so Ms. Campbell picked me up so that I could speak in front of the grown ups. I will never forget how confident and smart she makes me feel.”

When asked what she was missing most about her students right now, she said, “I miss their hugs, smiles and jokes! These are my 20 amazing, intelligent and beautiful children. When you can’t see them to wrap your arms around them through these scary times, it’s hard. While we can’t be around each other physically, my class has relied on Zoom meetings to still share our virtual hugs, smiles and jokes weekly.”

Janice Converse is a special education teacher, chairperson for both the SPED Department and for the Pre-Teacher Assistance Team at Fort Defiance High School. She has been in education for 31 years. She founded and directs the Camp Totem program which helps facilitate middle school students’ transition to high school. She shows up to school early and stays late. She was awarded Special Education Teacher of the Year for the State of Virginia in 2017. Her nominator says that she is extremely versatile, being credentialed in social studies, skilled in English, an impressive co-teacher in math, and a righteous strategies teacher.

When asked to respond to the current situation, Converse said this: “Once we got the ‘go ahead’ to reach out to our students and begin instruction, I experienced something that I never imagined. After all the emails were sent out, my phone began to BEEP with replies. I felt like a little kid at Christmas every time my phone beeped.  We never had any closure, and being able to contact them and interact with them has reaffirmed my opinion that teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs there are.”

Katie Crabtree was the guidance coordinator at Riverheads High School for the last 13 years and is now finishing her first year at Fort Defiance High School. Not only does she coordinate scholarship programs, standardized tests, orientations, schedules, and more, Crabtree creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and caring to foster a positive climate for learning and personal growth.

“Katie always had a heavy load of tasks demanding her attention. For Katie, people always came first. Her positivity meant her attention was always in high demand.” said a former co-worker.

Crabtree says, “In this time, I am encouraging students to find joy in unexpected ways…by helping and checking on family and friends, reading, experimenting, and listening to music.”

Michelle Freed has only been the math coach at Bessie Weller Elementary School for a year, but she’s been an educator for 14 years, always creating a culture where learners embrace struggle and resist the desire for instant gratification.

“She has changed a stigma from ‘I can’t get my students to try’ to ‘I have given my students the opportunity to struggle, engage, and learn from one another’,” says her nominator.

Freed was named the Staunton City Schools Teacher of the Year and the Shelburne Middle School Teacher of the Year for 2018-2019.

Says Freed, “I miss my students very much and can’t wait for the day I get to hug and see them again.  I encourage everyone to use this time to get lost in a book, be an innovator, share time with your family, learn something new, explore, and take a moment every now and then to stop and reflect.”

Debra Marston is a first grade teacher at Guy K. Stump Elementary School and has been in education for 18 years. She tutors and teaches summer school – sometimes for free. She never misses a PTA event and she spearheads the annual Guy K. Stump SCA float in the Stuarts Draft Christmas Parade for which she has numerous ribbons for winning first prize. Her nominator asked her how she has the energy for the enormous responsibilities she carries. She responded that it isn’t energy that carries her, but the love she has for her students who need someone to love, inspire, and encourage them.

“I work at an amazing school with an amazing staff and together we’ve found some awesome ways to still be there for our families. For my own sanity, I sign up to volunteer to deliver meals twice a week. It helps me so much to get out and do something good and when I catch a glimpse of one of my kiddos waving from their door or driveway, it brings me such joy,” says Marston.

Mary Meade has taught science at Waynesboro High School for 28 years and is currently the Department Lead. She teaches AP biology which is not taught in all area high schools. By doing so, Meade allows WHS students who do not attend Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School to attain college credit. She has served on numerous state committees learning about curriculum alignment, project based learning opportunities, and innovative teaching ideas.

Her nominator said about her, “Mary Meade is a female teacher in a field that has traditionally been associated with male role models. As such she serves as an inspiration to teenage girls who wish to enter the STEM fields.”

Regarding her school’s closure, Meade said this: “Our graduation exercises always end with teachers lined up to applaud the students and shower them with confetti as they make the ceremonial walk leaving the high school grounds and out into the ‘real world’.  These kids are funny, they are hard-headed, they are energetic, they are smart, they are persistent, they are challenging, they are gifted, they are needy, they are good thinkers, and they are good people. They were ours only briefly to help and to mold. As teachers we are so privileged to know them.”

Matthew Rider teaches agriculture at Stuarts Draft High School in Augusta County, where he is also the Future Farmers of America advisor. He has several individuals in his classes with severe learning disabilities so he routinely modifies his lessons to fit the educational needs of his students, combining skills from core classes such as math, science, English, and geography in an interesting hands-on way. His horticulture classes take care of all of the school grounds by mulching, trimming, and weeding.

Before coming to education five years ago, Rider was a sergeant in the US Army, 82nd Airborne.

“[(In the Army)] I woke up every day training and planning to do better than my peers, and defeat my enemy.  It can be exhausting when everything is high stakes. Coming to work for fellow teachers and especially students can be just as exhausting and high stakes, but the result is different.   I get more tired and stressed out than I ever remember in the Army, but at the end of the day it is in the pursuit of the betterment of those around me, and that makes it a thousand times more rewarding,” says Rider.

Katherine Stevey has been teaching science at Kate Collins Middle School for seven years. She begins each class with life skills discussions about conflict management, communication, how to respond to adversity, empathy, and how to become the best version of one’s self. She eats lunch with the students every day so that she can mentor them about how to rise above the negativity that is so common in middle school.

She is the School Improvement Team chair, the Science Department chair, and a registered behavior technician. She was awarded the 2018-2019 Waynesboro Public School Teacher of the Year.

From Stevey: “Sometimes I think about how the topic I teach is not the point so much as the lives I teach. Life Science is not the point- LIFE is the point, and helping kids to have the best one they can matters more than anything.”

Amanda Warren is in her fifth year as the director of nutrition services for Staunton City Schools. She oversees all aspects of the schools’ nutrition and is directly responsible for the management of day-to-day operations. Warren was responsible for Staunton City School’s selection by No Kids Hungry Virginia as a Dorothy McAuliffe School Nutrition Award recipient in 2018 and 2019. The award celebrates Virginia school divisions that have gone above and beyond by operating all available federal child nutrition programs and achieving exceptional participation in the school breakfast program. She was also responsible for Shelburne Middle School’s selection as a recipient of the 2017-2018 Virginia Breakfast Challenge, recognizing the significantly increased participation in the school breakfast program.

In support of Warren’s nomination, Casey Dickinson of the Virginia Department of Education added, “Thank you for recognizing nutrition as an integral part of education!”

Regarding the shutdown of the schools, Warren said, “While moving to a completely new way of feeding kids, I’ve seen tears and I’ve cried tears.  I’ve seen strength and grit because the thought of kids not eating just kept us working, even though it had been a 10-hour day. I have seen so much love shared, even while ‘social distancing’, that I can’t be anything but hopeful.”


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