Welcome to the 2023-2024 school year, teachers: Get ready to make an impact on today’s youth
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Welcome to the 2023-2024 school year, teachers: Get ready to make an impact on today’s youth

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I was thrilled to attend Waynesboro Schools’ convocation Tuesday for 44 new staff members and hear Dr. Laymon Hicks speak.

Hicks, an author and youth motivational speaker, is amazing. He encouraged teachers and staff to be there for today’s youth. He said you do not know what impact you could have on a young person by listening to them today or saying a kind word tomorrow.

Hicks knows because, despite obstacles as a youth, he has achieved success as an adult and earned his doctorate at age 29.

He told his story of the impact he has had on youth, so I will tell my story on the impact teachers have had on me.

Born in West Virginia, not much was expected of me as a child except to prepare to marry and have children as an adult. Thankfully, my parents moved my brother and I to Virginia the summer I was five years old, and the world, and its opportunities, began to open up for me.

I loved to read as a child. I don’t remember not reading.

When I was 9 years old, essays and creative pieces I wrote for school began to be praised by my teachers. In the coming years, teachers would tell me: “You’re going to go to college someday, right, Rebecca? Because you’re a good writer. You should go to college and become a writer.”

I’ve taken for granted how easy reading and writing have always been for me. I know some struggle with one or both. In college, I learned about language challenges, and reading challenges such as dyslexia. To this day, I still take for granted my understanding of the English language, punctuation and an ability to write well.

But I would not be who I am today without every one of my teachers when I was growing up and professors in college. They saw in me what I did not see. They saw the future. They saw my potential.

As public school and college classes resume across the United States in the coming weeks, I envy youth and college students re-entering classrooms and continuing to form bonds with their teachers.

And, to all teachers reading this, I am living proof of what your words and actions can create in young people.

So, like Hicks encouraged Waynesboro teachers and staff to do on Tuesday, I encourage you to lend a listening ear to a student having a bad day. Give another student praise for a paper well written or a science project that impressed you. Tell students you see potential in them and explain what that potential may be in the future.

Because, like me at 9 years old, they cannot see the future. But teachers and others in the lives of youth who care about them can see much more.

And, to all my public school teachers, including Mrs. Busby, Mrs. Geolitz, Mrs. Miller, Mr. Carter, Senora Cockey, Mrs. Wargo, and the late Miss Friedman and the late Mrs. Hunter: you were right. I went to college and I’m a full-time writer.

Thank you for encouraging me to be more than who I saw myself to be.

Thank you for being lights in the darkness.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.