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Community Foundation Celebrates Dawbarn Education Award Winners

On November 29th at 5:30 pm, the Community Foundation will host the 18th Annual Dawbarn Education Awards and will be giving away $100,000.  The reception and awards ceremony will be held in the Shenandoah Ballroom of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton, and approximately 200 people are expected to attend.  There are ten recipients of the 2011 Dawbarn Awards, and each will attend the ceremony with family, friends and colleagues to celebrate their achievements and receive a check for $10,000. The Dawbarn Awards celebrate and reward exceptional individuals in the Community of Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County. Established in 1992 by H. Dunlop “Buz” Dawbarn, the annual award ceremony has become one of the Community Foundation’s signature events.  The purpose of this fund is to improve public education in our community.  As was the intent of Mr. Dawbarn, ten awards are made each year to:


  • Classroom teachers of pre-school, elementary, and secondary students enrolled in the public schools that have most successfully inspired, encouraged, and fostered learning among the students under their charge.
  • Individuals (including parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, school bus drivers, mentors, volunteers, or any other individuals) who have demonstrated a commitment to inspiring, encouraging, and fostering the education of young people.
  • Persons who, by successful and effective mentoring and tutoring, have encouraged young women to remain and succeed in school.

 The event is a celebration of individuals who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to inspiring belief in the importance of education and learning, encouraging good citizenship and personal responsibility, and fostering high standards of achievement in learning among the young people of our public schools.

 The Dawbarn Education Awards are the result of a fund “Buz” Dawbarn established with the foundation.The Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge is a non-profit organization that provides a simple, powerful, and highly personal approach to giving. As one of the largest philanthropic institutions in the Central Blue Ridge, we are committed to careful stewardship and thoughtful investment in our region’s future. Unlike other non-profit organizations, we are endowed in perpetuity. Now, with more than 80 funds and $10 million in assets, The Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge distributes more than $500,000 annually to the community in awards, grants and scholarships. We work with individuals, families, non-profit organizations and others to establish permanent charitable legacies to respond to needs in the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, and Augusta, Nelson, and Highland Counties of Virginia.



2011 Dawbarn Education Award Recipients

Susan Miller – English / Speech Teacher, Fort Defiance High School

There she stood, all five feet of her. From the end of the hallway we could see her, or more importantly, we could hear her. “Come all ye sinners! Come and REPENT before thy God!” she cried, bedecked in flowing black robes and clanging an enormous bell. Susan Miller, an English teacher at Fort Defiance High School, wasn’t proselytizing that day, she was just teaching her students about a rafter-raising sermon from 1795. Is it any wonder that her students agree that classes with Mrs. Miller are always an adventure?

Mrs. Miller works with the broadest range of students. From freshman and kids with special needs, all the way to seniors and advanced students who are headed straight to great institutions of higher learning, everyone benefits from her touch.  Her work with the Speech Class and award-winning Forensics team inspires students to set higher goals, and these once shy and timid teenagers blossom into accomplished individuals whose sense of pride is obvious.  Her fellow teachers’ state that not only is she a favorite among the students, but she is also one of the best loved faculty members because she encourages and inspires all the lives she touches.  Her principal stated, “With Susan, life is approached with humor, energy, craziness, and passion, in a way that makes her one of the most unique and giving people I know. She is a main reason why all involved in the Fort Defiance professional family go about the business of saving starfish every day.” But it is perhaps the words of one student that sums it up best: “Each day is a joy for her.  She squeezes the most out of every moment and she makes us do the same.   She knows no gloom, no end of the road, no giving up, and an attitude like that is contagious.”

 Jean Rexrode – Second Grade Teacher, McSwain Elementary School

An ancient Hebrew proverb states, “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”  There is no doubt that “another time” has arrived, and Jean Rexrode, a second grade teacher at McSwain Elementary School, is preparing her students for success in the twenty-first century. She firmly believes that in every child there is something they can do well, and it is her mission to find it.  In addition to the typical student, she has taught autistic children, deaf children, and even children who just don’t want to be at school. She truly likes all her students and tries to find the one thing that will “turn them on to learning”.  And it has worked. Her principal tells of parents who many years later still attribute their children’s success to the foundation they received in Mrs. Rexrode’s class. One mother tells the story of her son, who has Asperger’s syndrome.  “We never imagined when we registered him for elementary school, that he would make it this far.  It is only because of his teachers, especially Jean Rexrode.  I am so thankful for her belief that our son could be more than what was expected.  She saw his potential then, and now we are reaping the benefits of her hard work. Last May he graduated from Lee High School and it was the proudest day of our lives.”

Mrs. Rexrode is also a teacher of teachers.  Every year she inspires student teachers, mentors new teachers, and happily shares her knowledge with her peers.  Staunton City Schools turned to Mrs. Rexrode as a leader in her school as well as the city when the system adopted Student Centered math.  She also began Writers’ Workshop by participating on the team of teachers who studied and piloted the program.  Soon, she became so proficient, and her students so successful, teachers from all over the city came to her classroom to observe and learn how to implement the program. There is no doubt that Jean Rexrode is a master teacher, for students and peers alike.

 Steven Brown – Custodian and Coach, Berkeley Glenn Elementary School

When Mr. Brown walks down the halls of Berkeley Glenn Elementary School, he elicits smiles and cheers from the kids he passes. No, he’s not a rock star, Steve Brown is the custodian. There is no doubt he cares about his job and all that it encompasses, keeping the school clean and working smoothly However, he takes it the extra mile and has become part of both the children’s and the staff’s lives.  Always patient and kind to students, he tells them every day to stay in school and to do their best. Greeting kids each day with a “high five” and a smile, he has that special, positive, upbeat attitude – serving as both a friend and a role model for everyone. The school counselor tells of numerous discussions she has had with Steve about his concerns for a particular student that he has seen struggling, whether it be academically, socially, with self esteem, or simply just fitting in.  Another colleague notes, “He has a strong sense of justice for equal opportunities for all children and young adults; despite their backgrounds and home environment.  Mr. Brown has a unique ability to reach the children that often seem “unreachable”; both male and female young adults.”

In addition to all this, Steve Brown volunteers as a coach in the children’s football league, driving to practices in town a few times a week and games throughout the county on Saturdays.  No doubt he loves the game.  But even more he loves the kids.  Not only does he attend the games he coaches, but he also attends many high school games so he can continue to encourage and see how those students he worked with as children have progressed into adolescence.  And the progress he looks for is not just on the field.  Steve understands as well as anyone that a college education is almost a necessity in today’s world and he encourages those around him to pursue that goal. The achievements of own children are evidence of his convictions. The principal at Berkeley Glenn sums up many people’s feelings when she says, “My favorite saying from Steve is when I ask him to do something extra for our school or students-his reply is “We are here for these kids and we do whatever it takes for them to have a good education.” Steve’s generous spirit is a blessing in all of our lives.”

 Martha Mikell – Science Teacher, Stuarts Draft High School

Martha Mikell is a science teacher at Stuarts Draft High School. Held in high esteem by educators throughout the area, she was voted the 2011 Teacher of the Year for Augusta County. Comments from colleagues include “Perhaps the greatest teacher to ever walk this planet,” “I don’t know of any more effective or resourceful teacher,” and “On a scale of one to ten, Martha Mikell would be an eleven.”

Though these accolades are impressive, descriptions of the classes she teaches are even more so.

Her enthusiasm, her innovative nature, and her dedication to the science program are exemplary. In Chemistry class, students make butter to demonstrate physical vs. chemical changes; ice cream to demonstrate freezing point depression; s‘mores for stoichiometry; as well as volcanoes, invisible ink and slime. In Biology class, students use pool noodles to illustrate the process of ‘crossing over’ of chromosomes; build edible DNA models while taking notes on structure and use Comic Life to create a summary of research on one organism in the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to this being the Science Dept. Chair and serving on numerous other committees, Mrs. Mikell is the Stuarts Draft High School SADD club advisor. Under her leadership, the club has won statewide and national awards, which last year resulted in a $10,000 grand prize. A colleague, a veteran teacher who has worked at numerous schools in several states, commented that “The SADD clubs at Stuarts Draft is the most highly effective high school organization I have ever seen.” There is no doubt Martha Mikell has done wonderful things for the students in our community, but some of the strongest words of praise came from her principal, who ended her nomination essay with the words, “I have never known a finer teacher.”

 Sharon Falls – Instructor, Valley Vocational Technical School

A former student says that Mr. Lundstrom’s best advice was “Never give up.”  He has inspired all Sharon Falls has served the students and the community for the past 30 years as the Instructor for the ‘Education for Employment Program’ at Valley Vo-tech. Ms. Falls has mentored, tutored, transported, clothed, fed and counseled numerous students in her 30 year tenure, often kids who typically are failing in our education system. She encourages and teaches students to be prepared to live independently and have children when the time is appropriate. Ms. Falls will do what it takes to make sure students are staying in school and pursuing appropriate further training and education.

Sharon falls is not one to let minor obstacles stand in her way.  When she found out that many of her students did not hold a drivers license, a necessity to hold a job in this rural community, Ms. Falls completed the certificate to teach driver’s education. Now students who have previously failed in the typical classroom have a differentiated program that provides success, and her pass rate is 100%.

She is also involved with the Summer Youth Program where she has worked as a job-site supervisor, counselor, mentor and coordinator for 15 years. Her students respond to and respect her, and while she supports them, she does not enable them. One of her former students states, “Mrs. Falls treated me with respect and made me believe that I was capable of accomplishing anything I could dream. Her care and encouragement was inspiring.”

One particular participant, a Special Education student, is the perfect example of her involvement to better the lives of her students. She identified a quiet and shy young man as a candidate who could benefit from on-the-job experience. This young man worked for several summers, becoming more confident each year, and Ms. Falls provided the opportunity for him to continue working during the school year so he would not lose the skills. After the end of this past summer program, he was offered a full time position at the work site. Ms. Falls’ involvement allowed him to gain skills and confidence in his chosen profession; she offered support with academic advancement and vocational training.

There are innumerable such stories, and her supervisor writes, ‘In my 29 years as an educator I have never seen anyone match Mrs. Fall’s tenacity and drive to help students realize their dreams. Sharon Falls has provided the foundation of skills, the confidence to dream, and the satisfaction of achievement to area youth for 30 years.”

 Michelle DeMarmels – First Grade Teacher, A.R. Ware Elementary School

Michelle DeMarmels is a first grade teacher at A.R. Ware Elementary School. By all accounts, it is one of the best places in Staunton to be. Mrs. DeMarmels’ classroom is a happy place, everyday, all the time. Students are enveloped in the positive. She sings at the spur of the moment, heaps on praise, expects only the best, and reaps amazing results.

Parents are unfailingly positive about this first grade teacher, and speak of how you can tell by the way Mrs. DeMarmels speaks to her students that all the kids in her class are special to her. She respects each one, and in turn, they respect her. One parent wrote, “When my son is grown and telling stories, the way he loves to do, I am certain there will be one story that will always be at the top of his list – the way Mrs. DeMarmels truly made a difference in his life and changed the way he felt about school and learning. I know this because I can see it in the way his eyes light up and he says “Mom, you won’t believe what we did today in class! Mrs. DeMarmels taught us how to…” as a parent, I couldn’t ask for more.”

Michelle DeMarmels’ colleagues think just as highly of her, and voted her the Staunton City Teacher of the Year. She has led the way in her school with new literacy and math programs, and has done it all with an unfailingly positive attitude. The assistant superintendent says, “If you are looking for someone who glows with her love of teaching, reflects everything we could ever ask for in a colleague, promotes best practice instruction in all she does, cares for every student, and collaborates with her team in a professional yet caring way, Michelle DeMarmels is that teacher. She is outstanding in every sense of the word.”

 Boo Elkins – Preschool Family Service Advocate, Augusta County Schools

Boo Elkins, a Preschool Family Service Advocate for the Augusta County School system, has been a powerful presence in the Staunton-Augusta County Area for 25 years. Whatever hat she wears, Boo is touching the lives of students, families, her colleagues, and the greater community. In her capacity of Family Service Worker she assists the families in getting their needs met, whatever those needs may be. She has helped students’ parents obtain adequate housing, medical insurance, GED’s, high school diplomas, job training, food assistance, clothing assistance and Christmas assistance. While helping these families she goes above and beyond the requirements of her job, going the extra mile to help them achieve their goals. Because of the students’ young age, the wraparound services provided for the family are CRITICAL to the child’s success at school.

While Boo’s influence has been remarkable during the school day, her influence and interests extend far beyond the classroom. For many years she has given up weekend and holiday time to insure that those with needs are met. One example (out of many) of her dedication would be the way she helped a mother of one preschooler.  This woman had been a teen mother, and had few employment options. Boo Elkins helped her set a goal of getting her high school diploma, gave her the confidence to take the first steps, and went with her to the appropriate office and helped her through the application process. Boo was there for her whenever she needed encouragement and because of that, this young mother finished a nine month program in 5 months, received her diploma and is now working as a substitute at a local school.  She, in turn, has offered to mentor others who are contemplating pursuing their diplomas. Through this one act of dedication Boo has changed not only one woman’s life, but the lives of that woman’s children as well.  What will be the ripple effect of Boo’s body of work? Hundreds of families and their children in our area have improved their chances of a better life due to Boo’s dedication and ceaseless energy. Truly Boo’s influence will touch future generations.

 Jessica Skeens – Fifth Grade Teacher, Wenonah Elementary School

Jessica Skeens, a fifth grade teacher at Wenonah Elementary School, is the teacher we all wish we had had when we were in school -the kind of teacher whose energy and passion for teaching their subject area and their students is absolutely contagious. She is very purposeful and creative in developing nurturing relationships with each of her students -relationships that last for years beyond their fifth grade experience.

She has devoted her career to working in a school that is 80% low-income because she wants to be a part of changing the statistic of recidivism. Teaching for Jessica Skeens is not just about the curriculum, but about teaching life-long skills that allow her students to succeed in all aspects of life. Mrs. Skeens keeps in contact with former students and their families to remind them that she believes in their potential and continues to have their best interests at heart. On a weekly basis and throughout the summer, Mrs. Skeens’ former students come back to visit, to volunteer to help her set up her classroom, to work on homework from middle school, or to just to “hang out” with one of their favorite teachers. Every year, Mrs. Skeens meets with the middle school teachers about her students, offering insight into their learning styles, strengths, and areas that may prove challenging for them at the next level. She empowers the students to develop those same supportive relationships with their new teachers so that they may continue succeeding in school.

It is always exciting to step into Mrs. Skeens’ fifth grade classroom at Wenonah. There is ALWAYS something exciting going on. When approached about piloting a “paperless classroom” where every student works from their own Macbook laptop during the day, she enthusiastically volunteered and has led this project division-wide for three years, creating curriculum shared with teachers in other elementary schools. Through technology, Jessica is able to provide her students with engaging lessons where they are able to take charge and guide their own learning. The classroom is filled with project-based learning where students are applying their own interests and therefore reaching their full potential. This is why the students that are regularly labeled as strugglers become the leaders and achievers in Mrs. Skeens’ classroom. She truly has a gift for teaching and shares her strategies and enthusiasm with educators across the state. For Jessica Skeens, teaching is not a job, but instead a commitment to the future of our children.

 Rosanne Wykes – English/Special Education Teacher, Robert E. Lee High School

Rosanne Wykes arrives early, stays late, and during that time can be found working with students, collaborating with teachers on the day’s lessons and activities, and assisting in any way possible to help students be successful. As a Robert E. Lee High School Special Education Teacher, Mrs. Wykes takes her advocacy of her students very seriously. She does not believe in or accept failure, and she sets the bar high. Working individually with students who need help in the class and also taking small groups of children out of the classroom to provide more individualized instruction, she has creative ways of keeping the students engaged and motivated. Her principal writes that she is also very mindful of supporting Lee High parents and families as they make their journeys through school with their students. She is in constant contact with parents, and while assisting them in formulating future plans for students (which includes vocational programs, college, or future job opportunities), she stresses the need for preparation to be successful in life.

Her efforts have resulted in students experiencing success for the first time in the classroom and on the Virginia Standards of Leaning (SOL) tests. She also volunteers her time to supervise and provide additional instructional support after-school and during Saturday School to help students gain the required hours and instruction they need to be successful. Her fellow teachers write that one of her major strengths is her ability to motivate students. “Mrs. Wykes has a wonderful ability to target a student’s individual weaknesses and work on the skills necessary to improve the student’s performance. She gives the students reading strategies and test-taking skills.” Her colleagues know she is always willing to jump in and help another teacher with ideas to help student achievement, and her methods have become the cornerstone of the English Department. In addition to all this, she is continually seeking out new knowledge, reading about professional practice, and discussing her work with others in order to expand her own knowledge base. Rosanne Wykes is held in great esteem by all who know her, both professionally and personally.

 Erik Walker – Social Studies Teacher and Coach, Fort Defiance High School

Erik Walker has been a World Geography and Sociology teacher at Fort Defiance High School for 10 years. Walking by his classroom, one not only hears his enthusiasm as he teaches, but his students are actively involved, intently listening and engaged in activities. His teaching leads to impeccable SOL scores that are consistently above the 95th percentile, with many semesters earning a 100% pass rate.  Mr. Walker often draws upon his personal experiences to help further develop his students’ comprehension of global understanding. As a Fulbright Scholar a few years ago, he spent most of the summer in Kenya. These experiences were imparted to the students, making possible an understanding and appreciation rarely afforded to high schoolers. As one person wrote, “He spoke of these African students with such compassion and reverence that it inspired me to want to travel, see more of the world, and most importantly, to never take what I have for granted.”

Not only is Mr. Walker an excellent teacher, he is also a coach. Coach Walker has been a part of the local soccer community since he has been a teacher at Fort, and as such, has been involved in some very difficult decision-making circumstances.  One administrator notes, “Erik has always opted for doing what was in the best interest of the individuals involved – even at the detriment of his team’s ability to compete. Likewise, the same decision making propensity he displays on the athletic field has always been applied in his students regarding academic work, as well.

Erik Walker has also worked single-handedly as the school’s Academic Team coach, has helped to begin a new club for the school, the Fort Defiance Chapter of the Future Teachers Association, to prepare his own students to become teachers for tomorrow’s generation, and serves on his school’s Gifted and Talented Committee.  He volunteers his time to help with the Mentor/Mentee program in which he takes in an “at-risk” student whom he chooses to mentor to and make sure that the student is not only doing their best, but makes sure the student is provided for, being held accountable and responsible, and teaches the student about survival in a sometimes too-rough world. The life lessons that Erik walker has been able to impart to his soccer players on the athletic field are similar to the same lessons he imparts when he models as a Fulbright Scholar and a teacher in the classroom. “Give back more than you take, leave the situation better than you found it, and do the right thing for the right reason.”

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