I love doing this job

I was in the fire department. I resigned five years ago to be with the family more. I still practice as a paramedic on the weekends – on Saturday nights and Sundays. I usually do 24-hour shifts. I’ve been at Kempsville for almost five years. This is my fourth year as a special education assistant. I started out as a cafeteria monitor and subbing. This is actually where I went to school. This house that I’m in now is actually the house that I grew up in. It was awesome to be able to come back here and be with everybody here. I love doing this job. Every day is different and it’s amazing. I love being able to see a difference in these kids. I started a garden club two years ago. My kids love it.

How long am I going to do this? Probably until whenever. I mean, because I love it! Then on my side days or when I’m not here or as working as a medic, I’m at the golf course with both my kids.

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Reading, science and dance

My favorite subjects in school are reading and science. I like reading because I like to read different books. I like drama, suspense and mystery in my books to see what’s going to happen next. And I love science because I just love doing experiments and seeing how things are going to turn out when I do them. It’s really exciting. We did one the other day where our teacher, Ms. Kinsey, she put water in a water balloon and froze it for a couple of days, and then it turned into the shape of a balloon. It was really cool and we saw how it had air bubbles and cracks and all that. We talked about how it formed and did that. I just love it!

When you’re not at school, what are some things you like to do?

I love, love, LOVE to dance. I’ve been dancing since I was, like, three and a half. When I dance, I can be free and I can do anything. It’s like I’m flying and I can’t touch the ground. It’s amazing! I just love dance. I do different genres of dance. I did pointe for one year but I haven’t gone back to it. I do mostly lyrical. It’s really nice and elegant. I like jazz and modern dance. I did hip-hop for a year, too. I mostly do lyrical though. I also did competitive cheerleading for three years and I liked that, too. It was pretty nice because we got to travel to different places like Myrtle Beach, Richmond, Raleigh and D.C., but it got pretty tiring and I didn’t see my family as much, so I mostly do dance now.

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I wanted it to be a community

A few years ago our lead gardener retired. She approached me and said, “Hey Matt, you’re working in the garden next year.” And I said, “I am?” And she said, “Oh good! That’s not a ‘no.’” That’s kind of how it happened.

Last year was my first year. It was a transition year but I was really proud of how the kids really stepped up and showed an interest. Over the summer I wanted to make sure we could really keep things moving. I created a SignUpGenius so the kids and the parents could volunteer. I wanted it to be a community. Community is a big part of the classroom; it’s a big part of our school and I want it to be a part of our garden as well. We had parents, students and neighbors come in over the summer on Mondays. I had a core group of kids who came every single week. We had a blast! We got our fingernails dirty. Sometimes they took their shoes off and we just turned loose in the garden and did what needed to be done. Usually we pulled weeds and there were a couple of projects that we did. I was able to help the kids — under really strict supervision — use a wood burning iron for the first time. We used it to carve in some posts for signs to show what we were growing. It’s child-made. The point of it was to bring the kids back to the school under the context of community and fun. Sometimes kids just associate school with work and dread, and I wanted it to be a place where they feel welcome and involved and important. Everything in the garden was student-centered.

We’ve taken a few weeks off. You know what happens when you don’t take care of a garden for a few weeks — that’s kind of where we are now. But we’ll be starting up an Eco Club to meet throughout the school year. We’ll lead the school in working in the garden so we want to align it to some objectives. We’re looking for second grade to work on the Three Sisters and perhaps fifth grade to work on a Colonial garden to show what the Colonists may have grown. And then, even native plants for fourth grade because they’re doing Virginia studies.

There’s been a lot of help. A lot of teachers in the building have put in their expertise. I don’t have a green thumb so I don’t know why I’m leading the garden. Sometimes it just takes a person who is willing not to say, ‘No.’ I’m learning all kinds of new things about gardening, about plants and about ecology, and hopefully the students will join me on that learning journey.

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I am where I need to be

This is my first year at Arrowhead and my sixth in Virginia Beach. Arrowhead has been so welcoming and made me feel like I am where I need to be. I am big into flexible seating and letting kids find their own way to reaching their goals. The administration and staff here have been so supportive and energetic. Being a 1:1 school will be an amazing adventure and I can’t wait to see where this year takes us!

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Science, history and hula hoops

I really like my second-grade teacher, Ms. Perez. She’s super energetic and happy, and she was an awesome Spanish teacher. She mixed in fun things with science experiments. I remember we did one where we read a book in the beginning of the year and then we did a science project that’s called Max Side Up. In the book, he noticed that every time the butter would fall down instead of being face up, so we did an experiment about that. I also really like my other second-grade teacher, Ms. Randolph. She taught us about Ancient China and Egypt that I really liked. I also really liked the Native Americans that we learned about. I actually brought my Native American doll in for my presentation. So, I thought it was cool that we got to do some science experiments and have kind of twist in projects with everything. I really liked that. 

What are you really excited about this year in third grade?

I’m really excited that we’re going to be learning about more ancient places like Ancient Greece and Rome and some place in Africa, Mali. I’m excited to learn about that. I’m also excited that we’re going to learn more about writing letters to each other because I really liked that last year. One time even, we were writing letters back and forth to each other in my class, and we ran out of letter paper. We asked for more but she said, “No, you guys are going to take up all the other class’s paper.”

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

One of my friends in class, we play soccer together, so I really like soccer. I also really like to craft at home and play. I like to hula hoop a lot and I’m really good at hula hooping. Last year we did a contest to see who could hula hoop the longest of the boys and girls. There were like 10 girls left and we had to start walking the basketball court for that. That’s how good the girls were and I won for one of those. I really like running sometimes, too. That’s pretty much it.

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They know they’re loved here

This is my 25th year with the school system. I really love the children. I love being around the kids. I like to make them feel happy when they are here. This is the best time of their lives. It’s my job to make sure this is a place to be remembered.

My philosophy is if you show them that you love them and you show them that you care, they will want to come here and learn because they feel comfortable. They know they’re loved here. I’ve got so many experiences from kids that have gone through here, who are now grown, who still come back and see me. It’s so rewarding for me. I want to make a difference in their lives. I want to be a role model.

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Studying the stars and sea

My favorite subject in school is science. Definitely! I like learning about the solar system. The solar system is just an interesting place to me because we don’t know if there is life out there, and, if there is life, maybe one day I could become an astronaut and go meet that life.

What would you say or do?

I would try and, if it was some sort of allergy or something, I would bring it back to earth so we could examine it.

Have you always been interested in the solar system?

Yeah. My dad, he really, really likes space. He gets Discovery magazine every week. He’s just been really, really into it. He watches Cosmos.

So, you want to be an astronaut when you grow up.

Well, I want to be a marine biologist because I like studying things and I like learning about new things. So, I think if I could find a new life that lives in the sea, I would get to learn about it and teach others about it and I would just love to do that.

You could study the stars and the sea.

It’s kind of far to go to the stars, and I don’t really want to be away from my family that much.

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I truly believe in the program

Virginia Beach was a pioneer in teaching language to young children. I believe that children at this age can learn like natives. You speak it. They repeat it. They learn it and that’s it! It’s very simple.

They’re first-graders and they know nothing because the majority of the students have never been exposed to the language. This week, even though it was the first week, I decided I just need to speak and they need to figure it out. I do enough motions. I show them pictures. I act it out. All those are cues and, in their brains, they feel the need and they want to understand the teacher. I bank on that. For example, we played a game where they have to guess the number. They have no clue what I’m saying but they saw the numbers, and I pointed and I made gestures. Within five minutes they knew the game. I didn’t have to speak in English.

What do you like about teaching in the immersion program?

First of all, I truly believe that is my gift. When I’m here, I smile, I don’t need to fake anything. I enjoy being here. I like the children and I truly believe in the program. I wish every single school could have it. In that regard, there is no effort. I love what I do. The load is big but I love what I do. I’ve taught from little ones to high school. I just love children. If you get into their brains, understand their stage of development and understand how they think, you can put yourself at their level and teach them anything.

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I’ve always wanted to be a teacher

I’m very excited and looking forward to a wonderful year. I’m so happy to here at Linkhorn. As a new teacher, it’s a learning process and reflecting on everything every single day.

What have you learned so far after one week?

You need to be flexible, especially in the first week. You don’t know your students yet, so some things you think might work…you really don’t know them. I have a morning class and an afternoon class, and they are completely different. At the beginning of the week I had the same things for each class, but I can’t because they are totally different.

What drew you teaching?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I remember I moved in first grade and I was so shy. I was the child who did not talk. I was so shy moving to a new school and my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Kalp, made me feel so comfortable. And that, well, I will just remember her forever. I want to be a teacher like that for my students.

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I want to study abroad

I’m really excited for eighth grade. I want to go to Tallwood, which has the Global Studies and World Languages Academy, because I want to study abroad. That’s always something I’ve wanted to do — like, go to Australia and Istanbul and everywhere! We do capstone, which is a mini senior project for eighth-graders, and I feel like that will mold me in a way so that I can study abroad. I think I want my capstone to focus on travel or kids who live in different countries and how I can help them.

It sounds like you’re excited about eighth grade because you really want to get to high school and travel.

Yes! I’ve been to Togo in Africa. My parents are from there. It feels very homey. I know a lot of the people there, but there’s kind of a language difference. That’s why I took French because they speak French there. I really like it over there.

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My first day was great

My first day of school was great! The lunch room was not really loud and I went to the gym. We walked around when the music started and then, when the music stopped, we had to go back to where we were.

What was your favorite thing you did today?

Math. And, there was a purple beach chair that I got to sit in. It had my nametag on it. There were real chairs and baskets that had a cushion you could sit on, and there’s just a cushion you can sit on.

Can you choose a different chair tomorrow?

I hope! I want to sit on the basket with the cushion on it.

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I like to have fun

I like to have fun. It doesn’t matter what I do, just have fun and be positive about it. Everybody has hard things that they go through and struggle with, but you’ve got to make the best of it. Just be positive.

I graduated from Tallwood in 2011. I graduated in 2015 from ODU and got my master’s degree in 2017. This is brand new for me. My interest in teaching started with a summer camp I worked at. That really got me volunteering with kids, seeing how they work, how they grow, building relationships with them and having fun. They make you feel young again. I’m still young but it gives you a different perspective on life because they haven’t experienced different things that we all have. I just enjoy that youth and how they enjoy everything that they do. That really spurred me to teaching.

At the end of the year, what do hope your third-graders will take away from your class?

Have fun. In everything you do, you can make it fun. Enjoy learning because you’re always learning. I’m learning. I’m learning now. I’m going to be learning this first year. You’re always going to learn, so just have fun with it.

What do you hope you’ll take away from your first year teaching?

I hope I survive.

I want to see that I made a difference…in any kid, just one kid. I want to say, ‘Man, I really had an impact on this one kid. He or she is totally different than when they came in.’ That’s what I want to see. I’m excited. Nervous, but excited.

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I love smiling

For sixth-graders, you really shouldn’t worry about middle school. It’s not that hard. I was bullied in elementary school and when I got to sixth grade my bullies were all like, ‘Hey, let’s be friends.’ We made up. It was kind of like a truce. There are always going to be people you don’t get along with, but here, people are inviting. They welcome you with open arms. It’s a great environment.

I think it’s important to think of what other kids feel and what may be going on with them. Be nice to someone. Share a smile. Being mean to someone really never helps anybody.

I like helping people. I want to be an orthodontist. At first I wanted to be a vet but I couldn’t take watching animals get harmed. Orthodontists help kids with smiles. I love smiling. I love when people smile.

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Facilitator of learning

I wanted to come back to teach at the beach and I was so thrilled when the opportunity here arose. I’ve always wanted to teach third grade so I was really excited that that worked out, too. I did student teach in third grade and I loved the age group. They’re very similar in the capacity of second grade and fourth grade where they’re still very sweet and they’re independent. They kind of get humor a little more and I like to joke around with my students once I get to know them. I just love how excited they are to be here and their desire to learn. Mostly, I like to give them independent things to do and let them discover on their own. They’re finally at that age where they can really explore that more and do that. I’m really working to be a facilitator of their learning this year. I’m hoping they can be little discoverers and they’ll be the teachers in a way. I find it just to be fun. It’s a fun age.

I always get asked, ‘If you could do something other than teaching what would you do?’ I have no idea. I have yet to find an answer to that question. I really don’t know what else I would do that I would be as happy with. It just feels natural. It makes me happy.

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I like to fly fish

When I’m not at school I like to fly fish.

How did you start fly fishing?

I just got tired of regular fishing and wanted to try something new. I went to Bass Pro, got a pole and got into it. There are tons of ponds a minute away from my house so I just skate over there.

What’s the secret to fly fishing?

Patience. It’s really frustrating at times. Sometimes you throw something at the fish and they don’t bite it. You throw another thing at the fish and, by the time you finally get the right fly, that’s what it’s called, you’re out of line. It just takes patience. That’s all I can say about that.

I’d like to be a fly guide when I grow up and take people out and fish. My dad’s in the Coast Guard so I kind of take after him. We fly fish together.

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Starting an environment club

We have so many cool opportunities here. I was thinking about starting an environment club. I just feel like there is a lot we could do here and help the environment, maybe something with the Chesapeake Bay.

I was volunteering at the food bank earlier and all the old vegetables that don’t make the cut just get thrown into the trash. I was thinking there might be a way we could partner up with them and, for the garden that’s being built here, we could try to compost that.

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Middle school isn’t scary

This school year I’m taking my four high school credit classes: geometry, earth science, keyboarding, keyboarding applications and Spanish I. Then I have English and social studies.

My favorite subject is math, definitely. Any type of math. I love working everything out on paper. It makes me feel like I can solve anything because solving a math equation is like solving a huge puzzle and when most people solve puzzles they feel accomplished. I feel accomplished when I can solve a hard math equation.

Do you have advice for incoming sixth-graders?

Just don’t worry. It’s all going to fix itself. Middle school isn’t scary. It can’t bite you.

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I love it here

This is my second year with the school system. I get to work with an amazing support staff team, my administrative team, all the students and the parents. It’s a great environment here. I love it here. I think it’s the best school at the beach.

The kids love being here. They don’t want to miss school. They get sad when their parents pull them out for a doctor’s appointment and they ask, “Am I coming back?” You can see the excitement and thrill in their eyes coming every day to school. It makes me happy to be here.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

I have a 3-year-old son. I love looking at life through his eyes, going outside, going to the beach and relaxing with family and friends.

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I’m part of the student athletic training club

I recently just changed up what I want to do when I’m older. At first it was definitely sports/physical therapy in a professional setting, either in college or at the NBA. Then I realized that wasn’t the type of lifestyle I wanted to have because I want to have a family and still be involved and still do things other than being at a practice and watching other people. I decided on occupational therapy which is really interesting to me because psychology is one of my favorite classes in school. I took regular pysch and AP pysch. It’s something I’m really interested in and I also like helping people. That’s really important to me. Everyone deserves to be helped and some people can’t help themselves so they need someone to support them and help guide them. That’s something I’m really passionate about. I’ve gotten some training in the physical therapy department because I’m part of the student athletic training club. I started that my sophomore year. It’s a ton of fun. I love doing it. I love the trainers at the school, Ms. Drago and Ms. Kate. They’re absolutely amazing. They’re the best people. They really taught me and helped me figure out what I want to do and helped guide me through what colleges I’m going to look at, where I want to be at when I’m their age. I really appreciate everything they’ve done.

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Pasta and ice cream

I like to play video games and play with my toys and eat and eat and eat and eat some more.

What do you like to eat?

My favorite food in kindergarten used to be pastina but now it’s Drumsticks, which are ice cream on a cone with nuts on top and there is hard chocolate that you can bite. There’s also chocolate inside and there is caramel, but that’s like another flavor. There’s chocolate, then there’s vanilla and there’s caramel.

Which is your favorite?

Vanilla and then chocolate and then, well, I don’t really like caramel. I don’t like it at all.

You said you eat and eat and eat some more. What else do you like?

I still eat pasta a lot. I eat yogurt and fruit. I eat Rice Krispies treats. I love them! I like to bake them. They taste better when they are baked.