Wilson Elementary School – 2008 Winner

Elaine Newman teaches at Wilson Elementary School in Richmond.  At Wilson, she is the head teacher in charge of the primary grades.

Elaine is a leader at Wilson Elementary.  In addition to being the head teacher she is the school’s Conflict Mediation Coordinator.  She also serves on the Leadership Team and prepares the morning announcements that begin each day at school.  She tutors children needing extra assistance.  When funding ran low, Elaine agreed to continue the program without any  compensation at all.

At Wilson, more than ¾ of the students participate in the free or reduced price meal program.  Almost 70 % of the students are not proficient in English.  Ms. Newman has students that have lost a parent due to incarceration, drug addition and death.  She has had students removed from the home by Child Protective Services.

In the face of these challenges, Elaine nurtures each child as if  they were her own.  She attends birthday parties, baby showers, first communions, family picnics and family dinners.  As she summed it up herself, often, you “have to wear the hat of a parent, friend, nurse, social worker, mental health professional, guidance counselor, and truancy officer.

Elaine has mastered the ability to give while preserving dignity.  Students entering her class might find themselves playing a game during the very first week.  Each child traces his or her foot on a piece of paper and writes his or her name along side it.  Later, perhaps when it starts to get wet, a student might find that a brand new pair of shoes magically has appeared and somehow, they fit perfectly.

Elaine’s children love to be in her class.  In fact, they say their favorite class is Math.  That’s because once a month, her students get to go shopping.  Elaine and the students create a bank.  They earn money  throughout the month which they deposit.  They are “paid” $25 for an A, $20 for a B and so on.  If you get a citation, subtract $5.  The bank prints money called “Newman Bucks.”  Elaine’s picture is on every bill.

Kids act as Treasurer and teller.  They keep track of deposits and withdrawals. At the end of the month, kids can go shopping at “Students R Us.”  They shop for presents that Elaine pays for out of her own pocket.  Kids also act as store managers and sales staff.  Don’t have enough Newman Bucks in a given month?  No problem, you can place your gift on layaway.

Every year, parents write letters requesting that Elaine be their child’s teacher.  One year, a group of parents got together and marched into the principal’s office.  They wanted Elaine to follow the students to the next grade.  The Principal patiently explained that each grade has a different curriculum.   Elaine would have to digest and plan a whole new program of study.  The school had many great teachers at every level.  The parents did not relent.

Ultimately, Elaine agreed.  Elaine taught herself the new curriculum and followed the kids to the next grade.  In the end, she did it again, and again, and again following those fortunate students until they graduated and went to middle school.  Elaine is such a great teacher, some folks just can’t let go.