By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — A teacher often leaves her mark on students, but how often does a school leave its mark on a teacher?
Wenonah Elementary School created a foundation for Abby Boxler Arey, assistant principal of Stuarts Draft Elementary School for two years, as an educator.
This summer, Arey will return to that foundation as principal of Wenonah Elementary.
“I had taught there, and I loved it,” Arey, who was at Stuarts Draft Elementary for eight years, said of her first teaching position, teaching 3rd graders at Wenonah Elementary for seven years starting in 2006.
She left to pursue a position as an instructional teacher, which eventually brought her to Augusta County Public Schools, the school system in which she grew up. Arey graduated from Fort Defiance High School in 2002.
“I just really kind of felt like this tugging that maybe I wanted to pursue something administrative,” Arey said.
When she heard of the possibility to be principal of Wenonah Elementary, she “really was just giddy.”
Her career has “just very much come full circle,” she said. “I loved that school.”
Wenonah has a “special community” and “amazing kids,” according to Arey.
“It’s just a magical place,” she said.
Leaving Stuarts Draft Elementary will be bittersweet, however, for the mother of two. Arey’s son, Cy, is 10 years old, and daughter, Rosee, is 5.
“But, really, my foundation as an educator comes from the foundation that was set for me at Wenonah Elementary School,” Arey, a 2018 Dawbarn Education Award recipient, said.
And the elementary school, which is one of four in the River City, also holds important personal significance.
Arey and her husband, Jeff, became engaged and were married while she was a teacher at Wenonah.
Knowing the Wenonah community, Arey said she is excited for her husband and children to also experience Wenonah with her.
Also while a teacher at Wenonah, Arey’s younger sister, MaDee Boxler, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2008.
Arey said that Waynesboro Schools supported the Boxler family and conducted fundraisers to help with medical expenses.
Prints of schools in the school system are on display at Waynesboro Schools’ central office and each of the school system’s seven buildings that were painted to help raise money for MaDee Boxler.
Boxler died Feb. 16, 2010, and on her birthday that year, October 24, The MaDee Project was founded.
Through fundraising events and donations, the nonprofit helps families in Waynesboro, Augusta County and Staunton when a loved one under age 22 is battling cancer by paying for travel expenses, medical expenses, prescriptions and more.
Wenonah Elementary was the only school where MaDee Boxler saw her sister teach. At the beginning of each academic year, Arey said that her sister would help her set up her classroom at Wenonah.
“That’s very special to me as well, because it’s a setting where I can see her in the classroom,” Arey said of memories of her sister. “There’s a lot of sentimental value in that for me.”
On July 1, Arey will assume her duties as principal. She said she is excited to work with Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell, and with Assistant Superintendent Vermell Grant, whom she worked with when she was a teacher at Wenonah.
Arey is also looking forward to “what it feels like to be a leader in a small [school] division.”
“I’m excited to see how that feels working in an administrative role in a smaller division that works as a community,” Arey said of Waynesboro Schools.
Arey said she thinks she can make a difference as principal of Wenonah Elementary.
“Ultimately, it very much feels like something God called me to do,” she said.
And she said she will begin by doing a lot of listening to discover the needs of teachers, staff and students, as well as encourage students and families to reengage with Wenonah Elementary as the River City begins to emerge from a global pandemic.
Arey said that it’s “really important to get students and families back in our doors, and passionate [about education] again.”
She always wants to ensure that Wenonah’s teachers know they are appreciated.
Arey said she will be visible, get to know students and staff, and that she is “wanting to be a school family.”
The foundation created at Wenonah helped prepare Arey as an educator, and her time at Stuarts Draft Elementary prepared her to be a leader. Arey said she thinks “all of it” came at the right time for her to become principal and return to her foundation.