Tomorrow night, the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge will celebrate 10 recipients of the 2023 Dawbarn Education Awards.
Each recipient will receive a $10,000 cash award.
The awards were created in 1992 by an endowment of the late H. Dunlop “Buz” Dawbarn. He said “the single most important thing we’ve got to do as a society is educate people. Democracy isn’t going to work in the long run if we don’t produce educated citizens.”
The first Dawbarn Education Awards were presented on October 10, 1994, and a total of 287 awards have been presented. Accompanying cash awards have totaled more than $2 million.
The 2023 Dawbarn Education Award Recipients are:
Chesne Baska has been the Librarian and Media Specialist at Wilson Middle School for nearly three years. During that time, the student book check-out rate has increased by 110 percent.
“For some of our English Language Learners, the library has become a safe place of reflection and a place to learn how to play Uno. For shy students, the library has become a place of congenial conversation and a platform for courage. For some of our struggling readers, the library has become a place where they experience success — sometimes for the first time! This is all attributed to Mrs. Baska. She is sunshine personified,” Wilson Middle Principal Sarah Davis said.
Bradley DeWitt, Stuarts Draft High School’s business teacher and coach, goes above and beyond his formal job responsibilities each day in the classroom, and on the field and court as he coaches football, basketball and tennis. In the classroom, along with working with each student to help them succeed in their academic studies, he is a voice of encouragement.
He is the guy students go to if they need help with school, sports or life in general.
Diane Lundstrom served Waynesboro City Schools for 33 years as a 5th-grade teacher, all in the same room. Day in and day out, you could find her in room 8 in Berkeley Glenn Elementary School. Hundreds of students walked through her classroom door and were immediately enveloped in a loving and caring environment. Watching her in the classroom is like taking a master class in teaching.
Lundstrom officially retired in 2021, but returned this year when Berkeley Glenn was short a 5th-grade teacher in room 8.
Clymore’s current theme for students, “Throw Kindness Like Confetti,” is a theme Principal Fonda Morris models well. She encourages her staff to show great effort, enthusiasm and creativity, and she fosters in them a sense of pride in school and community.
Morris has also coached a Junior Olympic travel volleyball team when the team was left without a coach. After taking first place in a tournament where trophies were not distributed, she took it upon herself to create and purchase T-shirts celebrating her team’s success.
Morris is well respected in many communities throughout Augusta County because of her strong leadership and dedication. She gives 100 percent of herself 24/7.
Barry Nelson became the head custodian at Wilson Memorial High School in 2019. He stands by the front door as many mornings as he can and greets students as they enter the building. Seeing students take their first step in the building each morning with a smile on their faces because of Barry’s warm greeting is deeply heartwarming. Nelson regularly works beyond his set work hours, and works weekends and holidays.
Charles Nesmith, Shelburne Middle School’s band director, consistently goes above and beyond. He’s incapable of not investing his heart and soul into every activity that he prepares for students.
Nesmith is committed to equity in the band room, which includes making sure students without financial means are also able to participate in band events. His absolute love for music and his dedication to reaching as many students as possible is evidenced by this year’s 6th grade class having more than 50 percent participation in the band program, the largest class of musicians to ever come through Shelburne.
To increase participation in district band tryouts, he volunteered to let students shave his head if 35 students auditioned for districts. As a result, more than 50 students auditioned. He held true to his word.
Lori Peltonen, teacher and Media Specialist at Staunton High School, was one of eight finalists for the Mary Bicouvaris Virginia Teacher of the Year Award. An experienced master educator, her impact goes far beyond her formal responsibilities as the school’s library media specialist.
Every day, Peltonen ensures students’ technology needs are met to support their learning. She’s also active in co-teaching with her colleagues and offering classroom-based learning opportunities for students. She has an expansive, positive, school-wide impact.
Dawn Pryor is a line cook at Waynesboro High School. She is also part of the Booster Club’s Executive Committee, and she is the chairperson for concessions for all sports. A one-of-a-kind person, everyone at Waynesboro High School and in the community knows her, and what she is all about.
Pryor has been doing this for 30 years. Most days, you have to force her to leave the building. She cooks. She cleans. She works the concession stands every night of an athletic event and does it all with a huge smile on her face, which is usually accompanied with a tremendous hug.
Angela Small, a Veterinary Science Instructor at Valley Career and Technical Center, is a two-time Valley Career & Technical School teacher of the year.
She has always demonstrated an understanding that out-of-school and in-school struggles can evoke emotions and behaviors in students that present a challenge to students’ education and ability to learn.
She enjoys not just being a great teacher, but a mentor that her students can look up to for guidance, and someone who will lend an ear and listen to what her students have to say.
Students in Matthew Snyder’s 6th-grade math class at Kate Collins Middle School are engaged and on task. He has high expectations for students and establishes procedures that ensure a safe learning environment in which he can engage students in multiple learning experiences.
He also serves as the junior varsity baseball coach. Snyder has taken his baseball team to read to elementary school classes, and he works with his players to build community beyond the baseball field.
Snyder attends his students’ concerts and other activities and shows his support. He will sit at the lunch table and talk with students, even when he’s not on lunch duty. He comes to hear the elective assembly about class choices, even though it’s not a requirement for him. He is simply interested in the lives and success of his students.