I want to be a physical therapist

My favorite subject is probably math because I just like math a lot and that’s my best subject. And I liked English because I liked my sixth-grade teacher a lot, but it wasn’t my best subject. It was still really fun because my teacher made it fun, and it was her first year there so that made it fun, too.

What are you looking forward to about the new school year?

I’m looking forward to what teachers I’m going to have and I’m looking forward to making new friends. I’m probably going to try out for track again and I’m excited about that.

What do you like to do when you’re not at school?

I like to hang out with my friends and swim in my nana’s pool. I like to go on my trampoline and tumble and do gymnastics, and I play with my brother and our new kittens. I play with the kittens a lot. Their names are Bruno and Rudee. They’re very sweet. We have a 15-year-old cat and she does not like them too much, but they’re going to have to learn to get along.

Have you thought about what kind of job you might like to have when you’re older?

Yes, when I get older I want to be a physical therapist. Then, on the side, I want to either volunteer at the SPCA or I want to be a part-time gymnastics coach. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I just like helping people and I’ve always wanted to be one of those kind of coaches that helps injured people.


Respect for our division

I taught 14 years and they were all at Plaza Middle. It’s funny, whenever I go to Plaza now, Sheraton Woodies, he’s the head custodian there, he tells me: “Welcome home.” It’s the sweetest thing. Plaza is very much home.

I’ve worked in all the schools pretty much now. One of the things that I feel is so important is, when we go out to professional development anywhere – if it’s a state conference or a national conference – I feel like people gravitate towards people in Virginia Beach because we’ve already been doing so much. We go to conferences and it’s almost validation for the work we do, and I think that says a lot for the kind of professional development we get in our division from the experts here. I was taught by some of the best. I feel like we have such strong leadership in secondary schools. I have just a lot of respect for our division and I’m happy that I’m here.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I read – that’s mostly what I do, or just meet up with friends. Just being a teacher and in the central office, I’ve met so many people and I’ve created strong networks of friends. I think that has been a blessing as well. The people that I work with are so amazing. They’re inspiring. Being with them and having discussions. I love being with my friends and having good conversation.


I like to color

I like to skate and I like to color. I like to skate because…I don’t know, it’s just a thing that I like. It’s almost hard because sometimes if you go really, really fast, you’ll fall. I just like it as a hobby.

And what about coloring?

Coloring is an everyday thing that I do if I’m bored or something. It’s my life because when I grow up I want to be a person who draws portraits. Me and my friend were planning to make a company, a drawing company. So if people need portraits or something to cover up their walls, they can call us and we’ll give them a portrait for $3.00.

How did you come up with $3.00 for the price?

Because $3.00 is for the small size, and $6.00 is for the medium, and $10.00 is for the large.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

Another interest of mine is playing outside. Me and my friend make up ideas that are really, really funny.

Like what?

One time, me and my friend were randomly talking about Busch Gardens because I had just been and then we pretended like the upstairs was a ride on Busch Gardens. And sometimes we pretend like we’re at the aquarium and the aquarium has rides. Like sometimes, we do rides that are just calm rides with fish and pretend we’re in the lazy river, and sometimes we have fast rides and pretend sharks are jumping up.


Digital designer

Eventually in life, one of the career paths I would like to choose is digital designer. Being able to design things for, well, basically anything – like, things that can help people in specific environments, things that can help people in their everyday lives and being able to provide the technology that’s necessary to some people.

What has inspired you to consider that career path?

To be honest, I’ve been interested in art and one of the things that I like generally is biology and how things in nature work. So one day – I don’t even know how it popped into my mind – but I just thought certain things in nature could be applied to specific cases in human lives. I thought that would be a great thing to apply and have be your skill.

What is an example in nature you’ve seen?

Specifically, birds. I’m not a birdwatcher, but it’s interesting to see how many designs in our world – trains, for instance – are based on bird design and how they fly. And especially consider airplanes, the entire basis of airplanes is on that birds can fly, we should probably do that, too.


I love working with my team

I’ve been with the division for eight years now and this is my 10th year in education. I started off teaching in Virginia Beach at Providence Elementary. I taught fifth grade there and then I was an instructional technology specialist at Pembroke Meadows and Shelton Park, and then I came to Teaching and Learning.

What do you like about working in education or your current role specifically?

I think that my current role has really helped things come full circle for me in education. I actually started off as a political science major in college because I wanted to really be able to make a difference. I quickly realized that politics was not the avenue for me with that and so that’s why I pursued education.

In my current role I’m able to work with teachers and students and really think about how learning for them can be relevant and authentic and make a positive impact on the world.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

We like to spend as much time outdoors as possible. My husband and I have two kids. We spend a lot of time at the beach, at Pleasure House Point, doing recreational sports – Virginia Beach has so much to offer as far as the outdoors. We like to be outside.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I love working with my team. We have, I think, a really good team in elementary. There are hard days but being able to work with the team I work with really lifts you up and motivates you to do be able to do more.


I like doing hair

I’m going to be in third grade. I’m excited about learning multiplication. I’m excited to see who my new teacher is going to be.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of school?

When I get home from school on the weekdays I go outside and play with my friends, or me and my friend will have a sleepover. She will come over to my house or I will go to her house.

Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a hairstylist when I grow up. I like doing hair and I think I’m good at doing hair.


I’m very excited for senior year

I’m very excited for senior year. I used to be a really shy student and now I’m going to be Senior Class President and I’m on the SCA Executive Board and I’m part of new student orientation. I’m really excited because SCA does a lot of stuff at this school and I’m hoping to use my class presidency and my position on SCA to help benefit both organizations.

How so?

So, SCA puts on an event called Fall Fest, and this year I’m asking to have the seniors do a senior haunted hallway. That will give money to my class but will also put a new twist on Fall Fest.

Have you thought about careers that interest you?

I want to join the Peace Corps. I want to go to college for zoology and something else, I’m not sure yet, and I want to work in the Peace Corps and work in orphanages. And then I want to work on animal reservations.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I would like to talk about my four favorite teachers. I call them the “Core Four” because I believe they run the school low key because they put on a lot of things. Two of them are SCA advisers, Mrs. Anderson and Ms. Conaway, and then Ms. Hurst, an English teacher who helps put on leadership workshop, and Mrs. Pohl, who also does leadership workshop, and the four of them are the best. They’re really great to students and they do a lot for the school.


I like to be fabulous

What are some of your favorite things to do?

I like to play Fortnite.  I like the color blue because it’s the sky. And I like to be fabulous!

How are you fabulous?

I put makeup on and I curl up my hair. And my Nonna she teaches me every way that she is fabulous because she IS fabulous.

I see you are wearing a Patriots jersey. Are the Patriots fabulous?


Why is that your favorite team?

Because Tom Brady and Gronkowski’s on it.

And have you thought about a job you might like to have when you’re older?

I actually wanted to be like – and I think I’m pronouncing this right – a meteorologist. I want to predict and study the weather.

Do you have a favorite type of weather?

I like water spouts. They’re fun.


Family farm

I started off at Seatack as a grade 5 teacher in 2004. I was there seven or eight years. I transitioned over to Strawbridge, transitioned to the ITS role, and then I made the leap to Teaching and Learning as the content integration specialist now the elementary science coordinator.

What do you like best about your role?

I think it’s an amazing opportunity to see so many different leadership styles across the division. I think it really speaks to the need for a personalized approach to your community that you serve. It’s great to interact with all the teachers and really up my game with how I provide support because it’s so different. Every day is a different day.

What do you like about science?

I think science is great because it’s all about wonder and about investigating. So if you have some reluctant learners, one thing that most kids come to school with is curiosity. If you can tap into that, you really can open doors for them and I find you can do that through science.

And when you’re not encouraging curiosity and wonder here at work, how do you like to spend your time?

We just started a new adventure as a family a couple of years ago. We started a family farm. And so our life is full of wonder – wondering what we’re doing from day to day. I just love family time because it’s so special because it’s not as frequent as I would like, so I really hold my kids and my husband close and spend any available time with them. We live on the intracoastal, so if it’s fishing or paddleboarding or anything we can do outside. That’s one thing I’ve really noticed is a difference with my kids – as soon as we made that move, it’s back to the time where you make up games when you’re playing outside. I don’t have to worry about them being plugged in too much or too connected because, really, it’s the whole world out in front of them that they are exploring.

What animals do you have on your farm?

Oh my goodness – it grows by the day. Lots of chickens. Lot of ducks. Five pigs. We just recently added a goat named Gilly. Animal Control contacted us and said, “We have this sweet little goat who is living in house, can you come get him?”

They reached out to you?

They knew we were crazy enough to take on a goat, I guess. Then we learned that goats are herd animals, so we had to get another goat. Then the goat we got is pregnant. So, it’s quite the circus but it’s tons of fun. And it’s something new every day for our family. We’re learning as we go. We’re completely novice at this, but I think it brings us together even closer.

Is there anything else you would want people to know about you?

Probably just that this is a really exciting time in education. I know our work is really hard work but it’s a unique opportunity for us to have this responsibility to kind of redesign education. I think everyone who is involved right now is extremely valuable and it’s going to pay forward more than just our immediate impact, it’s going to pay forward so far into the future. So I think that’s why I’m so passionate about my work.


I’ve always loved art

I’ve always loved art and I really love to draw and paint. We used to take art in elementary school and it was always really fun because you got to go once a week, and I always wanted to go more than once a week. So next year I’m going to be taking art as one of my electives and I’m really excited about it because I love doing art – it’s a way to express myself. I also do that through music, but when I don’t play music, I draw in my free time. I have so many journals and books and I have so many drawings throughout, so I’m really excited to see what happens.

I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up. There are so many things that I like, but I know I really like art and music, and I like making people happy with art. We used to do these smile bags for Operation Smile in art. We each took an animal and we drew it and then we gave them to kids. We filled them with things they would need for themselves so that was really fun.

Do you play an instrument?

I play the violin. I have since third grade. I’m taking orchestra again next year. And I do love to write. I love English. It’s so much fun to write and write stories and let the teacher read it and see what comments she gives me.


Senior project

I’m really excited to complete my senior project for the Math and Science Academy. I’m doing a project on bacterial genetics, particularly how bacteria communicate with one another through exogenous DNA. Basically, bacteria have really small rings of DNA that they can transfer between one another. If you are taking an antibiotic then one bacteria might evolve through a random mutation to be resistant to that antibiotic. The bacteria actually have structures called pili on their cell wall that actually bond with another pili from another bacterium, and then the plasma transfers in between the cytoplasm of the bacteria. Then that bacteria has a resistance to that antibiotic in like a chain reaction. That is pretty bad for us because that means bacteria can be resistant to a whole bunch of drugs that we have developed. And so I’m doing research on how bacteria do their different types of transformation, which is this kind of communication that they do. I am researching ways that we can reduce the transformation frequencies so bacteria don’t transform as much if they’re in an oxygenated environment.

Virginia Wesleyan University is where I did a lot of my work this summer. Ms. Turner and Ms. Shoemaker are my chemistry teachers, and I’m a really big nerd so I hang out with them a lot.

What are you thinking about for college studies or a career?

I’m not entirely sure what I want to do in college, I’m thinking more chemistry, biochemistry. I want to do more research. I want to stay at college and do my own research.


PE and singing

What I like best about school is PE. At PE I get to have fun with my friends and play with them and talk with them. So it’s really cool to have fun with them at PE and learn stuff.

Did you have a favorite activity in PE?

My favorite activity was… I don’t really have a favorite activity. I like them all.

When you’re not at school, what are some of your favorite things to do?

I like to sing. I go to restaurants and I sing, and now I have 100-and-something followers. This person I met at a restaurant – it’s called AJ Gators – we always go there and sing because there are always people there. So we went there, and I didn’t know that they posted a video on YouTube and my mom told me in the morning. I didn’t even know.

Tell me more about why you like singing.

I like to sing because my papa passed away and I love to sing. It reminds me of him.

Is there anything else you want people to know about you?

Well, I have two dogs. One is named Chief and one is named Cocoa. We adopted Cocoa. I was like 2. We don’t know what her actual name is. We just called her Cocoa because we thought it was a really nice name because she is white like marshmallows and she has brown eyes. And my dog Chief, I love him so much. When I was a baby and I used to cry, he would always curl up next to me and it made me so happy.


Math is applicable to everyday life

This is my 16th year. I started off at Corporate Landing as a second-grade teacher. I taught there for nine years. Then I became a math specialist. I was a math specialist at Christopher Farms and Landstown, and then I came to Teaching and Learning with Dr. Cashwell.

What do you like about math?

I think what I like most about math is that it’s applicable to everyday life and people don’t really think about it as much. We have a big push for literacy, which is super important, but numeracy is just as important. And especially as we build our students toward STEM-related fields, we have to have the foundation in mathematics. So all of the conceptual understanding and the problem solving that needs to happen in math has been there all along and we use it every day, but we don’t necessarily realize that we’re using it. So I think that piece of pushing something that’s, I guess, maybe in some ways underappreciated, gives me passion.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Outside of work right now I’m sort of consumed with my kids and their sports, but I love sports so I like to also work out and run and do all those kinds of things for myself. I have a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old and they play basketball, which is my favorite. I played in college and played pretty much recreationally until a couple years ago. And then the younger one plays soccer and the older one plays softball, so I stay pretty busy with them. And then I try to squeeze in a workout whenever I can. I like to do pretty much anything: lifting weights, running, riding my bike, kayaking, anything outdoorsy.

Where did you play basketball in college?

I actually grew up in upstate New York, so I came down here and played at Lynchburg College. Loved it. I redshirted my freshmen year because I tore my ACL and then played three years and had a great time. I wasn’t really a natural athlete. I really had to work at basketball but I loved it. I had great coaches and people who were in my life who really influenced me. I kept playing, I still had a passion. My undergraduate degree is actually sports management because I wanted to be a college basketball coach. And then I realized: there is no money in this, no life.

I came out here, I played in the Pro-Am a couple of summers. Then I coached. I was a coach at Cape Henry for a little while, the JV team, until I had my oldest daughter and then I stopped coaching. And now I just coach their rec teams because I love it so much. I’ve been coaching my youngest since she was 6 and she’s 12 now, and she’s quite the basketball player. She made the Plaza team as a sixth-grader; I’m very proud of her.

Is there anything else you’d want people to know about you?

I am busy but I do like to relax. I like the beach. Who doesn’t? You live here for that reason, right?

I love to sing

We opened Christopher Farms. It didn’t open for the students until September but it opened for us August 1, 1997. We had 30 days to get it ready.


And we did.

What do you like best about your work?

Well, you love a great principal that works with you and encourages you, allows you to hum and sing. I do it subconsciously, but when you hear the kids say, “Miss Mercy, we were listening to you in class. You’re singing in the bathroom.” That’s a happy custodian.

And what truly makes me happy is when the students look up to you, respect who you are and realize our jobs are important, too. You know, when they come back after graduation and say, “Miss Mercy, I still remember you.” It pleases my heart. There’s nothing like going from fifth grade all the way to 12th and still holding a special part of you in there, so that’s very moving. And having the administrators’ support, and they sing with you sometimes – and sometimes they dance. It just encourages you to have a great day.

To me, it’s not one person who makes a difference, it’s all of us working together. So having a staff of custodians who do what you ask, and you work just as hard as you expect them to work – it makes a difference. We all come together because everybody working together will always accomplish much.

Are you singing outside of school too?

Yes, I’m singing at church. Many times they say, “Mercy, we understand why you have a day job.” But I love to sing. I think when we feel good, we clean better, you do better. It becomes easy and then, before you know it, if they don’t hear you singing, they think something’s wrong: “Miss Mercy, why aren’t you singing?”

I’m going to tell you a secret. The fifth-graders wrote a note. They know how I am about the restrooms. They shouldn’t write on the walls, but I can’t bring myself to erase it, even though I know by September it has to be erased. And I couldn’t get mad at them. I left it up there this entire summer. You know when you’re having a tough day, you go in there and you read it.

What does it say?

That I made them feel special and that’s the toughest part of leaving this school.

It’s all about the children and how you make them feel.


Extracurricular activities

Since middle school I’ve done a lot of extracurricular activities. I feel like doing those clubs inspires me in a way and points me closer to my purpose in life. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up but I’m pretty sure I’ll figure it out.

The clubs I’ve been doing since sixth grade are: We the People, Math Counts, STEM, Debate, Forensics, LEAP Club, and I think there’s more. Each one of those clubs, they’re fun.

Math Counts, for instance, that made me really interested in math. We the People made me interested in government. LEAP Club, in our world.

Since clubs are concentrated on that one thing, I feel like it’s more thorough. And since it’s not just school, there are not as many educational standards that we have to go through so we can be more flexible with everything.

What are you excited about for your eighth-grade year?

Doing more clubs.


I like to do math

I like to do math and multiplication and learning about that. I mostly like reading because I can get better at reading. I love reading camp. I went here last year, too. I love the fun we have and how we learn.

What do you like to do when you’re not at school?

I practice my work and then I have a little bit of fun and play. I go outside, go to my friend’s house and play.

Have you thought about what you want to do when you grow up?

I was really thinking about being in the military. My whole entire family was in the military: my sister, military; my dad, military; my mom was in the military; my brother wants to go into the military and now I want to.


Running is a big part of my life

I never saw myself in Teaching and Learning. I knew I eventually wanted to go into leadership but I love the curriculum world and I love teaching reading. I love having kids learn how to read. What better way to affect more children in their learning ability than to be in Teaching and Learning.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Spend time with family. I’ve got two twin daughters, they’re 3, and I have a little boy who just turned 2. That in itself is large but I have three older stepchildren as well. They’re absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t ask to be part of a better family. They welcomed me with open arms and they love their siblings. I’m fortunate.

What is it like being a mother to twins?

So, once you get over the initial shock, the first year I don’t really remember. It was a whirlwind. Then once you get past that first year, it’s phenomenal to see two little people that are best friends and love each other. And it’s really interesting to see their two personalities because they are completely different even though they’ve been raised the same way with the same parents in the same environment.

What else would you want people to know about you?

Running is a big part of my life. I played sports: I played soccer and I swam and played basketball. I really hated running when I had to do it. I feel like after college I needed that outlet. I still had that competitive nature and if you don’t have that outlet it’s not safe for anybody around me. One of my former coworkers at Luxford, he was a runner and he got me into running and then it just snowballed into doing half marathons. I don’t know. It’s just…it’s my stress relief. It’s how I think. I try to run first thing in the morning before anyone is awake. It’s about 4 a.m. It’s early, which means I’m in bed by 8:30 p.m.

And I just recently was notified that I became part of the PR Crew – public relations – for J&A Racing. It’s volunteer but it’s really to help build awareness of the J&A Foundation. They provide scholarships for Title I students to attend the Shamrock Final Mile. Last year they covered eight schools in Virginia Beach. Next year they’re hoping to get all of the elementary Title I schools. So they’re going to sponsor 50 kids from each school. They’re going to give each one of those students running shoes. I taught in Title I schools and I was doing Girls on the Run and running clubs, and a lot of times, they don’t come to schools wearing appropriate shoes to run in. And they also pay for the bus transportation. It’s a phenomenal foundation. Some people don’t understand if they sign up for a race they are not just doing it for themselves but they are helping to provide access to students who may not have access to running.


I’m a huge volleyball fan

I’m a huge volleyball fan. I’ve been coaching volleyball for 10+ years. I coach for Outbreak Volleyball. It’s a travel league. We go all over Virginia, Maryland, D.C. area. The competition is pretty high. I also coach numerous recreational volleyball teams for Great Neck recreational center. Both of my kids have been playing for a long time. I picked up coaching and I just loved it. I had no idea when I first started. I learned so much and just continued to learn the game. The first time my daughter came home mentioning that my other daughter was playing volleyball and she’d like to play with her, I said, “OK.” We signed her up. So I was going to her practices and a lady said, “You’re always here. Do you want to be my assistant coach?” I said, “Well sure, but I really don’t know much about the game,” and she said, “Oh, you’ll learn.” I said, “OK.” Then, the next year she said, “Would you like to be the head coach and I’ll be your assistant?” and I said, “Sure.” That’s where it took off. My daughter got pretty good and she got recruited by a travel club. I was going to her practices where I learned so much as far as what they did. They knew I was a rec coach and they had enough kids to start a second team and that’s where that began and I just took off with it. It’s been my life, but I took a break this year because my job got really busy and I needed a break. The practices are three, four days a week and I put so much into everything I do. I like to do everything the best I can.


I’m excited about learning

I’m excited about learning and having fun in fourth grade

Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

I don’t know really. I have a lot of ideas of what I’m going to be when I grow up. Like a dancer, a singer, a contortionist.

Why a contortionist?

Because I’m very flexible already and I’ve seen Sofie Dossi. She’s the reason why I wanted to do contortion. The first video I watched of her I saw her do contortion stuff and then I fell in love with contortion, so I’m trying to do more of it.


Study the stars

Your shirt says “stay curious.” What are you curious about?

What will next school year be like.

And what do you think it will be like? What are you excited about?

Meeting new people and making new friends.

Have you thought about what kind of job you might like to have?

An astronaut…so I can study the stars.

What do you like about the stars and outer space?

That it’s so beautiful. I want to explore Pluto.

Did I hear that’s no longer a planet?

It’s a dwarf planet.

What about Mars? People may go to Mars. Do you want to go to Mars?

Hmmm… I’ll think it over.


I like going in the pool

I like going in the pool because I like to swim underwater. I have a new snorkel and I have this mask to cover my eyes and my nose. I have a snorkel that’s clear. You put it your mouth, then breathe – up and down. I did that before for a long time.

Like the other day, my sister took me out. I went underwater and then I breathed through my snorkel, and then when I got out then I said, “How was that?” And she said, “Good.”

What grade are you going to be in next year?

Third grade.

No, actually first grade. September 4 I will be in first grade. Then, after a longer time, I will be in third grade. Then fourth grade, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth.

What are you excited about for first grade?

When we go out to the park, we get to go out to the monkey bars. When we were in kindergarten, we couldn’t.

Have you thought about what kind of job you might like to have when you’re older?

A teacher.

Why do you want to be a teacher?

Because I like to learn and tell everyone what to do.


Raising service dogs

I actually got started with service dogs with my family. My mother heard about it and thought: ‘Oh this is an interesting way to kind of give back to the community.’ I was in kindergarten, I believe, when we got our first dog. We have raised nine dogs over the past 25 or so years. Quill is the fifth dog we’ve raised for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). They deal largely with mobility-related issues, people in wheelchairs with prosthetic limbs, but they can do pretty much any type of dog for whatever disability. We’ve also raised four dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Quill is with us until November. We get the puppies when they are 8 weeks old. Most all of the organizations have the puppies raised in volunteer homes. We keep them for about a year-and-a-half. He will then go back to the regional facility in New York and there he will have about six months of professional training. So we’ve taught him the basics. We’ve gotten him socialized. They will take what we’ve done and then build upon that. It’s almost like he’s going off to college. At that point, he will see if he passes and they will place him with a person.

What if he doesn’t pass?

It’s about a 50 percent failure rate because it’s such a demanding program. We had a dog that failed because he was afraid of heights; he wouldn’t go up and down stairs. We’ve had dogs that show anxiety and you can’t really have that – it’s really not fair for the dog. We get the first right of return. If he does not pass, then we can adopt him as his raisers, but if we choose not to, then he will get adopted out. They have a very long waiting list because you’re getting an older dog; usually about a year old who is very well trained and just for whatever reason – it could be a medical issue – it doesn’t work for their program. So the dog can go for public adoption at that point.

What type of training did Quill go through while he was with you?

One of big things that we want done for these dogs is getting them used to different experiences. Just coming to work here with me, he gets to be on an elevator, he gets to be around printers and copiers and there’s all of these people around – a lot is going on. So when he goes out to his working life, there is no situation that is new to him. He’s heard planes going overhead, sirens and all kinds of things. He’s also been to school where my mom works, so he’s been around kids and all sorts of different experiences.

Are you going to get another dog?

We might. We generally take a little break between dogs because it’s a lot of work. I mean, it’s really great and when you go and see them graduate, is it such an amazing experience, but still it’s a puppy that you’ll be getting again. Every couple of hours he has to go out and he doesn’t sleep all night. If we did get another dog we would probably wait until summer when I’m off and we can devote more time.

Would you recommend this to anybody else?

It’s fun to do, but it’s also feeling like you can make a difference. People always ask, ‘Isn’t it hard to give the dog up?’ but to me it isn’t. To me, he’s going to be a pet and he’s going to be a very nice dog that I can take on walks. It’s going to change somebody’s life and I get to see this happen. I have made that happen. The first dog that we raised went to a boy, I think 17 or so, with cerebral palsy. He’s never walked a day in his life and here I am; I’m perfectly healthy. We had another boy who was in kindergarten who had spina bifida. These people need these animals.


My sister

I like when we go outside and play.

Why do you like that part of school?

Because there is a big playground. I think my favorite part is the monkey bars and the pole you slide down.

What else makes you happy?

Does it have to be about school?

No, it can be anything.

It makes me happy when I’m with my sister and she plays with me. She’s 1. I’m teaching her to do stuff like I do stuff. So, she’s playing Barbies with me…I always have somebody to play Barbies and Shopkins and American Girl Dolls with.


Chess is exciting

I’m looking forward to meeting the kids, the community, all the parents, all the teachers – we’ve already had some opportunities to meet with a few teachers and still have some more coming up now. It’s really just being able to create a vision that’s around students and helping them grow and be successful – and not just here, but putting things in place for them to be successful when they get to high school. I think it helps that I have the high school experience and know what the expectations are to be able to implement that here.

The teachers that I’ve met and all the stories that have been told, everyone is all hands on deck – “What  do you need me to do” – and everybody is willing to do what’s needed for kids, which is awesome. It makes it exciting.

Do you have a favorite memory from your own school years?

I graduated from Bayside. I went to Luxford for a year when I came to Virginia Beach, and then I went to Bettie F. Williams, Bayside Middle School and Bayside High School. I’ve been a big guy for a long time. I’ve been six-foot-whatever since…I don’t know how long. Everybody said, “Oh, you want to play football? Oh, you want to play basketball?” When I got into high school, I played football and I didn’t really enjoy it that much. I didn’t really enjoy going to study hall, and down the hall was the chess club. I learned how to play chess when I was in elementary school. There was a guy in our neighborhood. He had computerized chess boards. It was cool because when you had to move, it would tell you where to move the piece and that’s just what you had to do. I learned how to play from him and we’d go over there and he would let us use the chess boards – my brothers and I would play. I didn’t really take it too seriously. I just knew how to play.

So, I’m this big guy walking in (to play chess) and people just think, “Oh.”  And I’m like, “Oh no, I’m good!” That was the best thing. We went to a lot of tournaments. Mark Bland was the German teacher and he was the chess coach. We went to the World Open in Philadelphia. We went to the nationals. We went to the state championships every year. We did a lot of chess tournaments, and I used to love walking in – parents are always there because of their kids and stuff, and here’s this big guy walking in, sitting at table 1 in the front. That was the greatest because I love to do things that people think I can’t do. I love a challenge. I’m super competitive. That was fun. I think, because of my size, people automatically think I’m involved in athletics.

You said you didn’t enjoy football?

I played my sophomore year. I started out at JV and at the end of the year they asked me to move up to varsity. I just didn’t want to. It wasn’t exciting.

But chess is exciting.

Chess is exciting.

I have an app on my phone that I play. I don’t get a chance to play in tournaments anymore because it requires a lot of travel because there are not that many here in the area.

I also enjoy playing volleyball almost more than chess – or about equally. I love volleyball. I played my senior year at Bayside. In fact, Coach Cunningham, I saw him recently at Planet Fitness. He really got me interested in volleyball. It was fun.

Is there anything else people should know about you?

I enjoy my job. I enjoy the work that we do. I enjoy my family. I enjoy my kids and other people’s kids and I try to treat them like they’re mine.


Softball, gymnastics and cheer

My favorite things to do are play softball, do gymnastics and do cheer.

Tell me what you like about all those things.

I like playing in center field at softball because if they hit the ball really hard you could go to left field, you could stay and go to second base, and you could go to right field, too. My favorite thing about gymnastics is uneven bars because you get to twist and turn and flop around. I like cheering because my sister used to do cheer and she won a trophy, and I really like trophies so I like to do cheer.

What grade are you going to be in next year?

I’m going to be in third grade next year.

What are you excited about?

SOL tests. I really like to do work on tests and I just love working.


Professional mermaid

I enjoy drawing even though I know I’m not going to make a living out of it. I can’t draw realistically at all, but I do know some tips about realistic drawing, like how the shoulders have to be wider than a person’s head.

Why do you like drawing?

Because you can draw basically anything you want and it may be hard but it’s not impossible. I usually like to draw things like macaroons and cakes.

Sounds like you like to draw desserts.

Yes, definitely!

Do you have a favorite dessert to eat?

Hmmm…I can’t decide whether I like crème de cacao balls more than brownies. Crème de cocoa balls is this family recipe. It’s supposed to originally be chocolate nut balls but to make it more delicious, I guess, my family put in crème de cacao in it.

I also like downloading apps on my phone that has these pictures; it’s like an online coloring book. You can take these shades; you can take gradients; you can take solid colors and color it. It’s really relaxing and stress relieving – I mean, it’s not that I have stress on me all the time, but it is stress relieving.

Are you excited about being in fifth grade this year?

I mean, I’m excited for fifth grade but I’m not really excited for the end of it because I’ve only been at Holland my whole life and it’s kind of scary to go to another school. I mean some people know what switching schools is like, for kindergarten they’re at one school and then they’re at another school. I was in pre-K here. I know this whole school. I could walk through it blindfolded with my eyes closed and I would still know about it.

Have you thought about what you want to do when you grow up?

Well, I might want to know some French. But I also might want to carry on my mom’s baking business. But the main thing I want to do is to be a professional mermaid – maybe one that even works on the trapeze. It’s an actual professional job. I first saw this when my grandma was on her phone on Facebook and she was like, “Oh, look at your aunt’s cousin and she’s a professional mermaid, she works with the trapeze.” I was like, “Well, I want do that.” But it takes flexible, strong people to work on the trapeze, so I’m probably going to be one of the mermaids in Florida where there are tubes that they get the air from so they can swim in the water longer.

I didn’t even know that job existed.

Yeah. It’s an entertainment job. I’ve always wanted to be a YouTuber or a veterinarian or just something like that. One time I wanted to work at Sea World.

But I just have my mind set on this mermaid thing because getting paid to be a mermaid, like, who wouldn’t want to do that?


Best of both worlds

My father is retired from public service. He is a retired New York City fireman. Growing up he would often talk about work – the built environment, fire codes and safety. I like to understand context of both art and the built environment so that kind of led me down the road not only to architecture but city and regional planning, which kind of looks at the bigger picture, such as how does a building fit into a neighborhood to how does the building fit into the community, what resources are being used and how is that adding to the community.

My main job today is looking at projections in the future [for the school division] and how our student population might grow or decline, and with that, look at our available capacity and where students [live]. We also upkeep attendance zones and related information for the community that could impact those zones. We’re also a liaison for city planning initiatives, such as those dealing with housing and neighborhood preservation.

I love my job. I really enjoy working for the school division. It’s the best of both worlds. As I worked through school I began working in both development and education. I taught in a variety of areas in K-12: special education, English as a second language, home hospital instruction. I have also been an art teacher. So I’ve always gone back and forth with the design aspect, the built environment and the educational aspect. When a job came up with the school division in Facilities Services, it was a perfect fit. I know that the work that I do every day serves the community as a whole and the future of the community as a whole.