This week, the team at the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge made surprise visits to several of the public schools in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County to notify and celebrate this year’s ten Dawbarn Education Award recipients. Superintendents Dr. Bond, Dr. Cassell, and Dr. Smith were in attendance, along with school principals, peers, and students. It was a joyous week celebrating the tenacity, excellence, and heart of our public schools.
The honor of being selected as a Dawbarn Education Award recipient comes with, what has grown over the years to become, a $10,000 cash award. Since the program began 28 years ago, $2 million and 277 awards have been distributed to recipients.
The Awards were created in 1992 when the late H. Dunlop “Buz” Dawbarn established a $100,000 fund at the Community Foundation which he later added to through his estate. Buz said, “The single most important thing we’ve got to do as a society is educate people. Democracy isn’t going to work in the long run if we don’t produce educated citizens.”
The Community Foundation hopes to host a celebration for award recipients in the fall. To stay informed about this event and others, follow the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
The 2022 Dawbarn Education Award Recipients:
The following Dawbarn Education Award recipients were selected for having made a real and lasting difference in the life of a student, for going beyond what is written in their job description, and for enabling students to see and reach their personal potential.
Brad Bryant has been the Carpentry Instructor at Valley Career and Technical Center for the last four years. He was recently selected as Shenandoah Valley Center for Advanced Learning’s Teacher of the Year for 2022. His list of community partnerships seems endless and his commitment to his students, inspiring. A former student wrote: “Mr. Bryant was hired after our school year began. With his expert knowledge, we were able to build a house for auction in only half a year. The second year, he challenged us to construct two houses. He gave me the confidence and extra knowledge that I needed to reach my personal potential and achieve far more than I could have imagined.”
Leon “Coach” Cash is an Instructional Aide in the Special Education Department at Buffalo Gap High School. He supports students before school, after school, and during his lunch break working on projects, posters, or job applications. A supervisor said about him: “Coach Cash has a gift for identifying and connecting with individual students who need a champion, that one person who accepts and sees them for who they are and who they are capable of being. Mr. Cash is that person for many students.”
Erica Cason is a 4th grade teacher at Stuarts Draft Elementary School and was named Augusta County’s Teacher of the Year for 2021. She works incredibly well with every student, from those who struggle the most to those who excel in every way. She was selected to be on the county’s team of Trailblazers and is a current mentor for the Virginia New Teacher Support Program in which she mentors six first and second year teachers across Virginia in hopes of assisting with teacher retention.
Wanda Hulse is the Career and Technical Education Teacher at Waynesboro High School. She teaches Technical Drawing, Solid Modeling I & II, Architectural Drawing, Building and Trades, and teaches dual enrollment courses through Blue Ridge Community College. She encourages critical thinking and problem solving from all students and promotes a team environment. Her classes are always filled to capacity because of her positive attitude and high standards. This year she was the winner of the 2021 Virginia High School Technology Education Teacher of the Year Award.
Melody Puffenbarger is Thomas C. McSwain Elementary School’s librarian. She believes in every child’s capacity to learn and is masterful at working with classroom teachers to integrate grade level learning. She is intentional in selecting books for her library that are inclusive of children with varying backgrounds, children who are racially and ethnically diverse, children with different types of families, and of children with different abilities. One child’s parent said: “Melody Puffenbarger is much more than the school librarian; she is a leader of a community in which children can value themselves, each other, and their accomplishments in the world at large.”
Samantha Sterrett teaches Culinary Arts and Nutrition and Wellness at Staunton High School. She was nominated by several staff members at Project Grows because of her outreach to them and the ongoing projects her students partner on with them. She’s built a Farming and Leadership class alongside the Project Grows staff. Half of the class time took place in her kitchen and half at the Project Grows farm and the farmer’s market. She is innovating public school education and finding creative ways to incorporate Career and Technical Education opportunities in her classroom learning.
Ashley “Spice” Suddarth has been a paraprofessional at Kate Collins Middle School for eight years and is responsible for assisting the Special Education teachers and students in the 8th grade. In addition to her official duties, Ms. Spice has taken on the role of Classroom Teacher, IT Assistant, Transportation, Front Office Secretary, and Behavior Management Specialist. One of her peers claimed that she has filled in for just about every position in the building. “She helps make our school feel more like a family than a place of work. Kate Collins would not be the same without Ashley.”
Beth Teachey has been teaching English for the last three years at Valley Academy Regional Alternative School which is the alternative education program, created in 2019, for Waynesboro and Augusta County students needing more direct instruction from their teachers. Her principal shared: “The fact that she has the skill to find the mechanism to reach our students with their attendance, drug issues, and other past traumas should serve as a testament to her ability to reach all students regardless of their backgrounds.” Prior to this position, Beth spent 15 years teaching English at Kate Collins Middle School. Beth Teachey was named 2021 Teacher of the Year for Waynesboro Public Schools.
Julia Urban was a 5th grade teacher for Clymore Elementary School for ten years before moving into the position of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Specialist two years ago. She inspires her students and her co-workers to be innovative, creative, problem solvers through integration of STEAM opportunities in the core curriculum. Her colleague said: “Julia’s above and beyond efforts to show students she believes in them, just as they are, is a gift to all who cross paths with her. Because of her, I do not doubt that many students see the very best version of themselves, which is the very best gift we can give to one another.”
Dr. Jelisa Wolfe is the Executive Director of Student Services for Staunton City Schools. She supervises educational programming for students with disabilities, oversees each school’s counseling department, supervises nurses and student health, and she is the Administrator for the PreK program at Dixon Educational Center. Her commitment to historically marginalized students is ever present in her work and her daily life. One of her teachers shared that you can often hear Dr. Wolfe say, “100% of the children, 100% of the time. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always simple, but it is always the right thing to do.”