Teachables Nova, a new educational supply store coming to Bristow Center, presented Bristow Run Elemenary School kindergarten teacher Kathy Blanco with their “Best Teacher of the Most Ridiculous Year Award,” Tuesday.
Teacher Jennifer Powell, co-owner of the Teachables Nova, said they received many nominations for teacher of the year in a Facebook contest they held this spring.
They chose Mrs. Blanco based upon a sincere and heartfelt description of her provided by the mother of two of her students.
In her nomination message, Bristow mom Audrey Baldwin praised Blanco for being an excellent kindergarten teacher to her older daughter, Reese, and an exceptional Zoom and in-person teacher to her younger daughter, Shay, during this most ridiculous year.
“Mrs. Blanco is sunshine. She makes every day an adventure in learning and has truly made the very best of a very challenging year,” Baldwin wrote to Teachables.
Baldwin visited Bristow Run, Tuesday, to see Mrs. Blanco accept the award. While there she was only too happy to pile on more praise.
“Mrs. Blanco makes learning really exciting,” she said. “She sets a foundation of excitement and encourages the very best of her students each and every day. She makes herself available even when she should be with her family on her own time, which we appreciate, but don’t expect. Both of my daughters have thrived being in her classroom both virtually and in-person.”
Blanco has taught for 25 years, “all over the world” including in Europe and all over Virginia. However, like all of us, Blanco never experienced a year like this before. “This is the most ridiculous- the most challenging year I’ve ever had.”
Early on Blanco was hesitant about teaching kindergarteners over Zoom. Would they be respond to her online, sit still, interrupt?
She was soon pleasantly surprised by how they rose to the occasion.
“They got right on. They got used to it after a week, and they were pros. They surprised me; they absolutely did. How they learned to mute and unmute, and all that good stuff!”
On Zoom, Mrs. Blanco’s students sang, counted, rhymed, listened to stories, and took turns speaking. They all had their monitors on and were actively engaged.
For asynchronous assignments students made ‘show and tell’ videos, drew pictures and wrote sentences to demonstrate their comprehension and to make connections to their own lives.
They often completed class activities in modules or took photos of their papers to post online. Mrs. Blanco responded with hearts, encouraging comments and virtual stickers.
Despite the hardships, Blanco said some good came out of the odd year. “I think they are more technologically savvy than kindergarteners are at this time in the year and in previous years,” she said.
In front of the elementary school, Tuesday, Powell presented Blanco with a Teachables gift certificate, tumbler, t-shirt, tote-bag and puppet. As a teacher herself, she said she wanted to honor teachers, this year, especially.
The idea to open the store came from wanting to fill a need, Powell explained. Jennifer and her husband moved from North Carolina where “we had a teaching supply store that I loved.”
When she moved to the Gainesville area she looked for a teacher supply store, but found the closet one was in Arlington. She ended up shopping here and there, but it was not the same as having everything in one store with a wide selection designed for teachers and students.
After expression her dismay to her husband who was about to retire from the Air Force, he said, ‘sounds like something we can fix.' They decided to open an educational supply store together.
Last spring, during the pandemic, the Powells surveyed the community, asking if they would want such a store. The responses were 90% positive.
“We received an overwhelming response, almost 500 people. Parents really wanted it.” At the time parents were very eager to supplement their children's learning.
Powell believes the store will continue to offer parents, students and teachers, including homeschool teachers, the learning supplies they need and want, including manipulatives, learning activity books, school supplies, toys and games, and “things that fill in the gaps.”
They plan to open over the summer and hold a grand opening before the start of the next school year.
While they had the opportunity to celebrate one exception teachers, the Powells want to thank all teachers, students and parents who survived and thrived in the most ridiculous year.
Find out more about Teachables.