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Three Bedford County teachers have been named as finalists for the school system’s Teacher of the Year award.
The award will be announced at a dinner on June 7.
The three teachers include Kristen Cunningham of Staunton River High School, Kristina Karnes from Staunton River Middle School and David Webb from Jefferson Forest High School.
Having taught English 9 at Staunton River High School since 2003, Kristen Cunningham’s greatest passion is helping students achieve cognitive epiphanies. She is well adept at increasing classroom rigor by: applying differentiation, reading high interest literature, using a variety of hands-on tasks, and asking open-ended questions.
She has served as Department Chair for six years, presented a county-wide seminar titled “Guys Read? Really?,” is Santa Cruz Mentor and Laying the Foundation trained, and is currently working toward National Board Certification.
Cunningham has been the Forensics coach for seven years at the school, claiming both District and Regional Championship titles, as well as advancing to States for five years.
Cunningham said her sophomore English teacher forever changed her outlook on education, and life.
“He had this uncanny way of getting information into a student’s head in engaging ways,” Cunningham wrote in her program portfolio. “Pappy not only made learning interesting and fun, he made learning the reason I went to school. … I knew I wanted to be a high school English teacher and influence lives as markedly as he has to this day influenced mine.”
Cunningham said her greatest contribution in education “is passing on a love for learning and the ability to think as individuals to my students.” She stated her passion for the stories her classes reads enables her students to share in that passion about the messages in literature. “I set very high standards and my students never fail to achieve them, some going far beyond,” she stated. “Every year I see young minds begin to change how they view their world around them and themselves, and not because I have taught them what to think, but because I have begun to teach them how to think,” she explained.
For the past 10 years, Kristina Karnes has taught seventh grade English at Staunton River Middle School. She also serves as an adjunct graduate professor at Hollins University and is pursuing a doctorate in education through Grand Canyon University in Arizona.
Though a constant desire to travel adds passion to her life and her World Cultures class, having grown up in Bedford County, Karnes is truly at home when teaching at SRMS.
Karnes grew up “seeing the struggles of two parents who were both teachers.” In her professional biography submitted with her portfolio, she recalled sitting at the table on Sunday nights, calculator in hand, punching in numbers as her mother called out grades that needed to be calculated; and serving as an intern in her father’s history class. Become a teacher? “No thanks!” she wrote.
Of course there is a “but” to her story.
That came in her second semester of college. She went to school to become a writer and that semester served as a tutor at the local middle school—in math.
“I loved every single minute of it,” Karnes wrote. “I laughed every day, cried every week about something that was frustrating or a problem that seemed too hard to solve...but I felt fulfilled, happy, exhausted and accomplished every single day.”
That led her to transfer to Radford University, enrolling in a fast-track teacher preparation program.
Karnes said what she has discovered over the past decade of teaching is that not only might the students need her, but she also needs them. “If I am not teaching, I am not me,” she stated. “Teaching is who I am, even if I fought it at first. “
David Webb has taught music for 22 years, the last 14 as Director of Bands at Jefferson Forest High School. While at JF, he has elevated the band program to a level of national prominence.
Among the band program’s accolades are three performances in the London (UK) New Year’s Day Parade, two performances at the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference, a performance at the 2012 Music For All National Concert Festival, and seven Virginia Honor Band awards.
Webb has twice been recognized with the National Band Association’s “Citation of Excellence,” and is active as a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
Webb comes from a family of career educators, but feels there is more to the call “than following in the family business.”
“I firmly believe teaching, for me, is a genetic predisposition,” he wrote in his program portfolio. “I have an instinctive drive to be instructive. … I find few things more gratifying than the demonstrated success of my students.”
Webb attributed the enthusiasm of his sixth grade band director to helping him take ownership of his band work at an early age and started him on his eventual career path. “I became passionate about music and performing,” Webb stated.
He said throughout his band career his directors stressed excellence at every level. “That expectation transformed itself into my current profession work ethic and the expectation I place on my students—be excellent,” he stated.
Webb is pleased with what the band program has been able to accomplish the past 14 years and his goals for the program remain high. “We will continue to grow and improve, always challenge our students to strive for excellence, and constantly try to provide opportunities for our students to achieve and perform at the highest attainable level in individual and ensemble settings,” he stated.