If the home is where the heart is, then Loudoun Valley High School is home for Rodney Jones and its students and staff are his family.
A life in education felt like second nature to him because Jones, who is Social Science Department chair and presents lectures on both psychology and modern world history, comes from a long line of educators. His mother is a special education teacher and his father is an assistant principal in Stafford County.
“I like helping,” he said. “I’m big on service. It felt natural to [teach].”
The foundation of teaching stands the test of time – you plan a lesson, teach the class and grade the papers. But, as a graduate student teacher at the University of Virginia where he received both his bachelor’s and masters in history and teaching respectively, Jones discovered that it takes much more than the basics to make a house a home.
“Rodney has steadily worked his way up in leadership roles in the school and isn’t shy about offering his insight and opinion but always in the most professional ways. He seems very knowledgeable about current educational trends and supports Loudoun County Public School’s mission and vision,” said Leanne Johnson, director of school counseling at Loudoun Valley High School.
A self-professed “history nerd forever” who “can tell you most all of the Senators in the U.S. Senate right now,” Jones’s passion for history and his desire to know why things happen as they do, is delivered with such exuberance you can almost imagine him telling stories of the separation of church and state and freedom rights in mid-20th Century – an idea foreign to some high schoolers – as if he were at the head of the dinner table instead of in front of a whiteboard.
The conversation isn’t one-sided. Most of his “awesome students” enjoy talking about themselves in psychology class where the discussions center around how they’re growing as individuals; physically, socially, cognitively and morally.
Perhaps walking students through the perils of adolescence is a difficult task, but it’s one in which Jones thrives. For the last five years, he has pitched in with the county’s CAMPUS program, which is a college prep course that serves historically underrepresented and first-generation college students. From this view, Jones has a front row seat to watch them grow in maturity, realize the value of hard work and understand the importance of college in being successful.
“I want to be a person to them, not just a teacher,” he said. “[Teachers need] to show that we care about them and their performance in school and outside of school and helping to build a whole and active community participant.”
One student Jones considers fondly was a first time athlete participating in track and field. Although it was his first sport and he wasn’t the fastest runner, the boy worked hard to slowly lose a couple of seconds off his time. Eventually, he reached a personal record, gained his confidence and started greeting Jones in the hallways.
“I saw his confidence build, which was great. For me, it made me know that it was all worth it,” he said.
He’s not the only one watching. Johnson describes “Rodney as a natural go-getter with never-ending enthusiasm, always putting students first. He will go to battle for anyone, including staff and students.” It should be noted that Johnson also pointed to Jones as “the best when it comes to emcees for pep rallies.”
After five years, he’s still settling into his adopted home at Valley, a school that has a long tradition within Purcellville where “everyone’s family out here in Western Loudoun.” He’s also still striving to be an excellent teacher. His hope is to one day be fortunate enough to have a student come up to him to say, ‘Mr. Jones was a great influence on my life.’
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some kids already say that to me,” he said. “I’m really blessed about that.”
This article was first published in the Blue Ridge Leader in December 2014.