Tag Archives: teaching

Loudoun Valley is Where Jones Heart Is

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.

Rodney Jones is Social Science Department chair and presents lectures on both psychology and modern world history at Loudoun Valley High School.
Rodney Jones is Social Science Department chair and presents lectures on both psychology and modern world history at Loudoun Valley High School.

“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.

For the First Lesson, Listen to Your Inner Voice

The path to reach one’s calling in life doesn’t always build at a crescendo, but rather poco a poco – little by little – as we learn to embrace our inherent talent.

Jessica Morgan is the director of choral activities and advanced orchestra at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville.
Jessica Morgan is the director of choral activities and advanced orchestra at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville.

Such was the path taken by Jessica Morgan, the director of choral activities and advanced orchestra at Woodgrove High School. Maybe it should have seemed obvious for Morgan to one day become a professional music director; she was a singer at four years-old and a violinist at five.

But, to whom much is given, much is expected and it was perhaps those expectations that initially drove Morgan away from sharing her talents with others. A Winchester native, she started out at James Madison University as a Biology major. However, a little birdy wouldn’t stop singing the song of music in her ear. She tried out for JMU’s School of Music and it’s of little surprise she was accepted. Any initial resistance melted into acceptance and today she realized that her role as teacher also poised her to be a lifelong student of music herself.

“If you’re a truly great educator then you’re a lifelong learner. You must be willing to change because there are always new methods and new techniques,” she said.

Perhaps there is no greater success than witnessing the growth and development of a student. One of Morgan’s pupils, Scott, appeared one day to audition for the Jazz choir. He had never before so much as carried a tune, was unable to sight read music and had never taken a private voice or piano lesson. But, he possessed an intrinsic motivation and passion. Throughout his years at Woodgrove he’s become a natural leader and is now a member of one of the top choirs in the state.

“It’s amazing to see that much of a transformation from someone who has never sang a note in their life and here they are one of the best singers in the state three years later,” Morgan said.

The same transformation could be said of Morgan herself. Woodgrove’s chorus program has grown tremendously under her leadership, most notably by the selection of five seniors for the All-State Choir and the 49 students were chosen for All-District selections this year. “She is such an outstanding, positive and influential teacher,” said Woodgrove Principal William Shipp. “I believe she is able to make this happen because she has very high expectations for them and for the program – and she creates wonderful and meaningful relationships with her students.”

Morgan requires a high level of work, discipline and skill of her naturally very talented students. Their sight reading skills are constantly being tested with new sheet music and she builds on the foundations and the technique of singing, the vocal pedagogy, the way the voice works and the way they should breathe and produce a tone.

She has high expectations of her choir who she describes as “boisterous, loud and outgoing” and her orchestra students, who are “a bit more disciplined and very, very sweet.” While she expresses her own joy for music upon them, she also ensures that they are music literate, that they are able to site read and have a choice in performance selection. Most notably, she works from a base of mutual respect.

“The students have tremendous respect for her and work hard to improve their skills and the level of their performances. I believe the students do this not only for their own self-improvement, but also for her because they know they have a teacher who believes in them and wants them to be successful,” Shipp said.

For Morgan, teaching high school chorus has been a warming up exercise. Each year, the more she does it, the more she falls in love with it.

“I really love the students. I really love making music every day,” Morgan said. “You should form relationships with your students and motivate them to go above and beyond.”

This article was originally published in the Blue Ridge Leader in December 2014.