When Amelia Carr taught her kindergartners to recognize words by sight, she got a little help from her siblings. In a YouTube video, the trio belts out Sister Sledge’s ’70s anthem We Are Family, with Carr demonstrating on a whiteboard how to write the word “we.”
For her ingenuity, passion and knack for making learning fun, the University of Mary Washington alumna was recently named Fairfax County Public Schools’ 2021 Outstanding New Elementary Teacher.
In her classroom at Bucknell Elementary, a Title I school near her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, Carr puts into practice the lessons she learned at UMW. Navigating a worldwide pandemic and teaching online was challenging, she said, but also a confidence and creativity builder. “I wanted to make my instruction as engaging as possible,” she said of virtual learning, which lasted through late February for most of her students.
Carr, who dreamed her whole life of becoming a teacher, said she was “instantly drawn to Mary Washington” because it was a small, in-state school with a strong College of Education (COE). She earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in creative writing and a minor in social justice in 2019, and student taught in Stafford County Public Schools. Last year, she received a master’s degree in elementary education from UMW.
At Mary Washington, Carr discovered “wonderful mentor teachers,” like Associate Professor John Broome, who taught her culturally responsive teaching practices that have helped her make her classroom more inclusive. Her students greet each other in their native languages, learn about each other’s cultures and read books representative of their diverse backgrounds. They also had a say in developing classroom rules and norms.
“Amelia equally cares about her students’ emotional development and their academic growth,” Fairfax County Public Schools said in a statement. “She understands children learn best when they feel welcomed, loved and represented.”
Assistant Professor Melissa Wells said that Carr’s dedication to equity in education was apparent even as an undergraduate. “She advocates for all students and families as valuable members of her classroom learning community. Watching her flourish in her first year of teaching has been a joy.”
From Wells, Carr learned arts integration practices that she incorporated into her teaching. She used puppet theater to help her kindergartners learn how to read, played tambourine so they could count beats and sang songs about life cycles and sustainability. She read books like The Ant and the Grasshopper and The Giving Tree to help students learn to think critically and ask questions. She also planned online field trips with Google Earth and organized virtual lunches and play groups to foster socialization.
In addition, Carr invited virtual guest speakers, including a veterinarian, entomologist, high school football coach, former NFL player and her students’ parents, to speak about their careers. “A major part of the kindergarten curriculum is learning about the people who help our community function,” she said.
Her students have graduated to first grade, but that doesn’t mean Carr will stop teaching over the summer. Through the Bridge to K program in Fairfax schools, she’ll help incoming kindergartners prepare for the year ahead, and she plans to spend some of her free time tutoring children before heading back to the classroom.
“Nothing beats the feeling of seeing your students have their light bulbs go on,” she said. “Being a teacher is the most humbling and rewarding job.”