Kathy Paschall hoisted herself onto a tabletop in the back of the classroom and pointed to a makeshift solar system taped to the wall.
“Why do they call Venus Earth’s twin?” she asked, pointing at one of the planets.
“Because they are about the same size!” one of the high school students answered confidently.
Less than a mile down the road from Paschall’s earth science class at George Wythe High School, Tally Botzer gathered a group of third graders at Swansboro Elementary to read a story about Helen Keller.
Paschall, a student in the University of Mary Washington’s master’s in education program, and Botzer, who received her M.Ed. from UMW in May, worked in Richmond City schools during the spring semester as part of the Ukrop’s Fellowship Program. As the first two fellows in the program, the graduate students spent each day in the classroom, honing their teaching skills and gaining valuable experience.
The fellowship, supported by Ukrop’s Endowment Fund of the Rappahannock Region Foundation, helps ensure Richmond Public Schools advance the highest quality educational opportunities and outcomes for its students by hiring and retaining the best prepared teachers. The initiative funded the academic credit that Paschall and Botzer earned, as well as living expenses and instructional materials.
“The Ukrop Fellowship provides support for UMW College of Education teacher candidates who plan to develop their careers in urban schools,” said College of Education Dean Mary Gendernalik-Cooper. “You can’t get a better match of goals and strategy.”
For Paschall, known to her students as “Miss P,” the fellowship has provided real-world applications to her work in UMW’s graduate program.
“The setup of the master’s curriculum is brilliant,” said Paschall, who received a bachelor’s in natural resource conservation from Virginia Tech. “The process of going from courses to practicum experiences to the internship has been the biggest component of my success in the program.”
The experience also has proven beneficial for the high school students.
“She is so insightful and very energetic,” said Latoya Toms, the lead teacher in Paschall’s class at George Wythe. “She brings life to the classroom.”
Toms noted an increase not only in student engagement but in the students’ grades since Paschall’s entrance in the classroom.
Paschall, who grew up surrounded by teachers, knows the grades just tell part of the story.
“Teaching is not just about what I can teach from a textbook, but rather it can be a means to effectively change the way students look at the world, themselves and others,” she said.
Paschall and Botzer recently met with Jim Ukrop, one of the fund’s administrators, and discovered that he previously attended Swansboro Elementary.
“He is very clearly passionate about making Richmond a place where people really want to live,” Botzer said. “He’s smart–he knows that people want to live where there are good schools. And good schools don’t exist without good teachers.”
Ukrop, a philanthropist and former chairman of the Richmond-based Ukrop Super Markets Inc., said he is delighted to be involved with the Ukrop Fellowship Program, which will help Richmond Public Schools become one of the nation’s premier urban schools.
“The University of Mary Washington has helped produce many gifted educators, so we jumped at the opportunity to partner with UMW to develop a program that prepares teachers for success in an urban public school setting,” said Ukrop. “The program helps the fellows to successfully meet the special challenges of urban school settings. At the same time, we hope the program will inspire these talented, well-prepared future teachers to live and work in the city of Richmond after they graduate.”
Botzer’s route to flashcards and phonics was an indirect one. After graduating from UMW with a degree in English in 2008, she worked as a copy editor in Washington, D.C., then volunteered in Costa Rica as an assistant to an English teacher.
“I was absolutely terrified at first, but as soon as I got there I realized my place was in an elementary classroom,” she said.
Now, a recent graduate of the master’s program, Botzer hopes the fellowship will lead to a full-time teaching position in Richmond this fall.
“I want these students to succeed and I tell them that I expect them to succeed,” she said. “Even something as simple as that can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Every student deserves an excellent education, and where better to start than in the heart of Virginia?”