When Amy Harr (M.Ed. '15) decided to pursue her master’s degree at the VCU School of Education, her goal was to make an impact in the classroom. With the help of professors who recognized her accomplishments and challenged her to take it to the next level, she’s now a Teacher of the Year impacting not only students, but the educational system itself.
Harr’s accomplishments include getting certified in a literacy program after her daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in the third grade. Harr saw the tremendous progress that her daughter had made working with a special education teacher, but she wondered if there was a way to help more children earlier on, before they developed such a big learning gap.
When she saw an opening for a reading tutor at Richmond’s William Fox Elementary School, she wrote a proposal for kindergarten through second grade students that was approved by the PTA. After the first year of her program, students had advanced an average of two grade levels. Soon, other elementary schools in Richmond wanted her new program.
That’s when Harr realized that teaching was her passion. She needed a master’s degree to pursue it full-time, but she didn’t want to get certified just so she could advance her career.
“I wanted to gain something from my professors and my fellow students that I could take into the classroom,” she said.
Harr turned to the VCU School of Education. One of her first memories is how patient the faculty were.
“[My professors] were excited by what I had done, and they challenged me to take it to the next level. It was very empowering.”
“When I was an undergraduate, the internet didn’t exist, so my first semester I had to learn a whole new vocabulary and means to accessing resources. Fortunately, I had professors who took the time to answer questions that, frankly, were embarrassing to ask. They were fantastic about supporting my success,” she said.
Her professors also recognized Harr’s accomplishments as a mother, a volunteer and a tutor. “They were excited by what I had done, and they challenged me to take it to the next level. It was very empowering,” she said.
"Through the VCU School of Education, I broadened my expertise. When I finished the program, I had far more tools to use in the classroom, and I had confidence to share my discoveries with administration and other teachers in my school."
Today, Harr is a fifth grade special education teacher at Richmond’s Linwood Holton Elementary School. She was recently selected Holton’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, recognized not only for her teaching but also for her case management and coordination of professional development opportunities for faculty there.
“It’s exciting to make a difference not only in the lives of the children I teach, but in the educational system itself. My master’s program at VCU helped with that by leading me to people who told me, ‘We can get this done!’,” she said.