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Melissa Porfirio, a first-grade teacher at Crestwood Elementary in Springfield, is one of eight educators named as 2014 Virginia Regional Teachers of the Year.

Karen Garza, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, made the announcement during a surprise visit to Porfirio’s classroom Sept. 19.

School divisions in each of the commonwealth’s eight superintendents’ regions nominated candidates. Porfirio represents Region 4. The nominees then submitted portfolios highlighting their accomplishments, educational philosophies and community activities.

A panel comprising classroom teachers, representatives of professional and educational associations, the business community and 2013 Virginia Teacher of the Year Kathryn Galford of Chesapeake reviewed the portfolios and selected the eight teachers.

“These teachers, from schools in every corner of the Commonwealth, are committed to excellence and the success of their students,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said. “I congratulate them for their selection as regional teachers of the year and thank them for what they do every day to prepare young Virginians for the future.”

The panel has been interviewing the teachers to select one as the 2014 Virginia Teacher of the Year. The decision will be announced Oct. 11 during an awards ceremony in Richmond.

The winner will become the commonwealth’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year. The Council of Chief State School Officers, in partnership with the University of Phoenix and People to People Ambassador Programs, awards this recognition. Sponsoring the award are the ING Foundation and Target.

White House welcomes student poet from Oakton

Aline Dolinh, a sophomore at Oakton High School, has been named the southeast region representative of the National Student Poets Class of 2013.

She was recognized at the 13th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival, which took place Sept. 21 and 22 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The national award recognizes one student from each of the five regions in the country. The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers sponsor the award.

All five student poets met with first lady Michelle Obama at The White House Sept. 20.

Dolinh became eligible for the honor earlier this year when she won the Gold Key award in the regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

As a National Student Poet, Dolinh will participate in a region-wide community service project designed to promote literacy awareness. She is particularly interested in looking at ways poetry is taught in schools, she says.

When she was in first grade, Dolinh won her first poetry award for five haikus she submitted to a contest at the National Kite Festival, which takes place every March on the National Mall. She has won numerous other awards for her poetry, but this most recent honor is her first national recognition.

Dolinh will travel to New York this month to be honored by the Academy of American Poets.

Vienna gymnast executes all-around good deed

Sara Vavonese, 12, of Vienna, was looking to undertake a “mitzvah” (Hebrew for “good deed”) project as she prepares to become a bat mitzvah at Reston’s Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in December.

Driven by her love of gymnastics, Sara, a student at Longfellow Middle School, decided to send a little girl in the foster care system to classes for a year.

“Not only is [gymnastics] fun for [Sara], but it makes her feel good about herself,” said Andrea Vavonese, noting that her daughter has been passionate about the sport since she could first walk. Now she wanted to share that joy with a child who might not otherwise have the opportunity to practice on a balance beam or parallel bars.

Sara contacted the National Council for Adoption, which directed her to Lutheran Social Services National Capital Area, to find a child in foster care who was interested in gymnastics.

LSS/NCA staff identified a 7-year-old who entered foster care in spring 2012 as the result of domestic violence and physical and educational neglect. Agency staff believed the girl would benefit from a structured activity.

Sara raised more than $850 for class fees by emailing friends and family and selling lemonade and baked goods. She researched gyms in the area where the foster child resides and coordinated registration for the class. She also contacted GK, a distributor of gymnastics apparel, who donated a leotard.

The foster child started her gymnastics classes last month, and according to Andrea Vavonese, Sara is excited to have lighted the flame for another young gymnast.

Spanish teacher appointed to governor’s cabinet

Jennifer Bury, a Spanish teacher at Robert E. Lee High School, is one of 22 teachers chosen to serve on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Teacher Cabinet. The cabinet includes teachers from every Superintendent Region in the Commonwealth.

Other cabinet members include Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Del. Algie Howell (D-Norfolk). The Secretary of Education and the Virginia Teacher of the Year will serve as ex officio members.

“We received countless strong applications, and this group is just a sample of the world-class teachers in the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Laura Fornash.

The Governor’s Teacher Cabinet will identify resources, learning tools and professional development opportunities that the Education Department could make available to local school divisions. The cabinet also will recommend strategies for greater parent and community engagement, for improving the K-12 education, higher education and workforce collaboration, and for closing the achievement gap and assisting disadvantaged students. Finally, cabinet members will identify any needed improvements to administrative responsibilities.

“The Commonwealth is very fortunate to have a top-ranked K-12 education system and world class teachers, but to continue this tradition of excellence we must constantly look for new and innovative ways to elevate our teacher workforce and prepare our children for the 21st Century economy,” McDonnell said.

Vienna school earns Blue Ribbon title

Westbriar Elementary School in Vienna is one of seven Virginia public schools and three private schools that were named 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools, according to an announcement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private K-12 schools that are either academically superior or have demonstrated dramatic gains in student achievement.

“Each of these schools has maintained full state accreditation despite a significant increase in the rigor of the commonwealth’s standards, assessments and accountability benchmarks,” said Patricia I. Wright, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

All seven public 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools earned awards earlier this year through the Virginia Index of Performance program. Westbriar Elementary earned the Board of Education Excellence Award.

The U.S. Department of Education will honor all of the nation’s 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools during a conference and awards ceremony Nov. 18-19 in Washington, D.C.