Lynchburg educator named Virginia Teacher of the Year

A middle-school English teacher from Lynchburg was named Virginia’s Teacher of the Year at a dinner in Richmond Friday night.

Meg Smith teaches eighth-grade literature at the Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation. She is known for encouraging students to get excited about writing by helping them find ways to publish their work.

She is also known for pushing kids to be involved in and contribute to her class -- even if they don’t want to.

I’m relentless,” she told the Lynchburg News and Advance newspaper in May. “My answer is, ‘Oh yeah, honey, you are going to do it.’”

Smith will compete for National Teacher of the Year, a title currently held by Maryland chemistry teacher Michelle M. Shearer.

Smith was one of eight finalists in the state competition. The Northern Virginia (Region 4) finalist was Jamie B. Sawatzky, a seventh-grade history teacher at Rocky Run Middle School in Fairfax County.

Sawatzky, a 12-year veteran of teaching, turns American history into a hands-on, immersive experience. He is perhaps best known for his innovative methods in teaching students about the battlefields of World War II. The students dig trenches and try on uniforms, wrote Holly Hobbs of the Fairfax Times last week.

“The simulation even includes a remote-controlled rat, steered by Sawatzky, which rolls by as war sounds play on speakers in the background,” Hobbs wrote.

The students also hear from 100 veterans of the war who go to Rocky Run each year to share memories.

Sawatzky also goes the immersive route when he teaches about Prohibition. He turns his classroom into a speakeasy, where students experience the sensation of breaking rules--not by drinking liquor, but by chewing gum.

“You couldn’t do this in high school because they would think it’s dumb,” Sawatzky told Hobbs. “That’s what I love about middle school. They’re young enough to have fun with it and old enough to take it seriously.”

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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