By Tammy Minnigh • Staff Writer
MONTEREY — There will be several new faces at Highland County Public Schools this year, particularly at the elementary level. They include:
• Trudy Colaw — Trudy Colaw of Blue Grass spent the last 40 years in health care, including time spent teaching nursing students. Colaw will now be a special education aide at Highland High School. "The COVID just got me," Colaw said. "I needed a break."
After two grueling years of dealing with the pandemic, Colaw is looking forward to her new job.
"It will be cheerful and happy," Colaw said. "I'm excited to have a challenge."
Colaws favorite book is "The Faraway Horses" by Buck Brannaman, and her hero is her dog, Benji. "He saved my life," Colaw said.
Colaw said she hopes to be a catalyst for encouraging her students to share their knowledge while stimulating their minds.
• Heather Gum — Heather Gum moved to Highland County five years ago. Entering her second
year in education, Gum will be a special education aide at Highland High School.
Gum started in the middle of the last school year but quit in May to become a CNA. After a few months, she decided to return to HHS as a teacher's aide. She looks forward to the fun between the students and teachers this year. "I realized this was my dream job," she said.
Gum's favorite book is "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë. Her parents are her heroes. "My dad and mom helped me with my struggles and were always there to encourage me to never give up," she said.
She passes those lessons on, as her favorite part of being a teacher's aide is "being helpful for students and watching them succeed, but also being there to help them with their struggles."
• Wilma Pitsenbarger-Rexrode — Wilma Pitsenbarger-Rexrode retired in West Virginia after 33 years of teaching but continued as a long-term substitute for an additional four years. She begins this year as a special education teacher for fourth through sixth grades at Highland County Public Schools. She holds a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees and is certified in special education and as a reading specialist.
Her favorite part of teaching is helping students grow and learn new things to be successful.
Her favorite book is "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren.
She said her parents are her heroes. "They taught me that you only get what you want by work,"
she said. Another hero is her late husband, whom she said inspired her to get a college degree.
She is looking forward to new challenges at HCPS, such as tackling the paperwork involved in special education. "Hopefully, I can help get special education back on track," she said.
A parent of a special education student herself, she understands what goes into crafting an Individualized Education Program from all points of view. "I've sat in most of the seats around the table," she said. "I come into these meetings with an IEP I've created based on if this was my child, this is what I would want done."
• Diana Bowers Smith — Diana Bowers Smith will be the part-time school psychologist for HCPS. She will handle assessments and team studies and help write educational plans for special-needs students.
Smith formerly worked in Pendleton County schools for 38 years. She earned degrees and certifications in social work and school psychology.
Smith said she looks forward to learning about Virginia's policies and helping new children. "I'm big into families and home visits and working with parents and grandparents," she said.
Her favorite book is "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Wonder Woman is her hero. "Even knowing she is not real, it helps one strive for the impossible and make it become possible," she explained.
• Haley Terry — Haley Terry was born and raised in Highland County. After working as a
substitute for HCPS last year, Terry will be a full-time teacher's aide in the fourth and fifth grades this school year.
Terry plans to get a degree in education and will take online classes through Old Dominion University while working. "It will be a challenge, but I'm up for it," she said.
She plans to teach either second or fourth grade once she completes her degree. "Those were the grades that were my favorites in elementary school," she said.
Terry's favorite book is "The BFG" by Roald Dahl.
Terry said her father is her hero. "No matter how hard the struggle, he always finds a way to push through and come out on top," Terry said.
She looks forward to getting to know the students and staff and growing and learning with everyone.
• Kimberlie Richardson — Kimberlie Richardson of Monterey will take over as the fifth grade
teacher this year. She has taught school for six years and holds a bachelor's degree.
"I am looking forward to meeting my new students, and I am so looking forward to helping them learn and enjoy school," she said.
What she likes best about teaching is seeing the student's eyes light up when they learn something new and know their teacher truly sees them.
Her favorite book is "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio.
While her family members are all heroes to Richardson, she holds her daughter, Virginia, in particular regard. "She has been through so much in her 14 years, and she never gives up,"
• Tina Clifton — Tina Clifton started as a teacher's aide in the Head Start preschool
class at Highland Elementary School last April and returned this year.
Formerly, Clifton worked in the Highland dental office, but after the departure of the full-time dentist, she switched to her current position.
"I'm excited to see the young preschool children who were here last year but were not old enough to move up to kindergarten," she said. "I'm also excited to work with new students coming into preschool for the first time. I love interacting with the little ones and watching them learn to do
new things and advance in their knowledge.”
Clifton's favorite book is "The Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson. "My son was assigned this book to read in elementary school, so I read it, too," she said. "I wanted to be able to discuss it with him. I think I reread it several times."
Her father, who passed away in 1999, helped instill a love of reading in her. "He loved books and loved learning and being informed about current events and issues," she said. "Our family called him Webster. He knew everything and had a heart of gold."
• Lisa Jackson — Lisa Jackson taught for six years before coming to Highland County
Public Schools but came to the career after a few twists and turns. "Two of my childhood dreams were to become a teacher and a veterinarian," Jackson said. "After many different careers, I finally followed my heart, which led me to animals and children."
Jackson has a BA in political science/communications and associate’s degree in veterinary technology. She will be the special education teacher for Highland High School.
"I am most looking forward to returning to work with my middle school special education students who have now graduated to high school, new students in my caseload, and to the friendships that I formed with many other students and teachers," she said. "I love the small town, family atmosphere that is unique to HCPS, and the kindness and empathy that I have found the students to have for each other.
“I look forward to bringing my own unique style of teaching and new methods and tools for success to my class. I look forward to motivating and inspiring students to be the best of their
abilities, support them to know that they are worthy and have unique traits and talents, and to create a safe and happy place to thrive,” she said.
One of Jackson's favorite things about being a teacher is making a difference in people's lives as she gives back to the community and forms new relationships. Her teaching style is to look at the whole of each child to accentuate the positive and help them overcome the negative.
"I love being a teacher that helps student work through problems, not just academically but socially and emotionally," she said. "I look forward to cheering them on at sports events and at the many special event that our school provides to its students, and to follow their achievements in the community."
Jackson said she can't choose just one favorite book. "I have always loved the classics by Jane Austen, many which portray strong women achieving their desires despite insurmountable odds,"
"This brings me to my hero, who is my mother," Jackson said. "She was born in and grew up in Hungary during communist rule. She participated in and survived the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the Stalin regime. The only one in her family of six to escape the country and
immigrate to America following the war, my mother assimilated into a new life, language and culture. She worked, married, raised four children and never lost her spirit and zest for life.
"My mom was my inspiration to write and publish a book about her life story a few years ago," Jackson said. "She is my hero and enabled me to achieve my final childhood dream of becoming an author."