Roanoke graduate earns statewide teaching award

By David Harrison
Reprinted with permission from The Roanoke Times, October 28, 2008

Stephanie Doyle, a Roanoke teacher who started a program for middle school girls, has been selected as Virginia's teacher of the year.

The Breckinridge Middle School sixth-grade history teacher learned of her selection after a marathon interview session Friday in Richmond. She becomes the first city schoolteacher to earn the recognition since Carol Yosafat, an English teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, in 1981.

"This is not just my award, this is your award," Doyle, looking slightly overwhelmed, told her colleagues and students during a raucous celebration in the Breckinridge gymnasium Monday afternoon. "This shows to the entire state of Virginia that we have the best teachers and the best students."

Doyle, 32, has been serving unofficially as a mentor to female students since she started teaching nine years ago. Last year, she decided to formalize her mentoring and started a program called GROW (Girls Rising Onto Womanhood).

The program is designed to help at-risk middle school girls academically as well as socially. She spends time helping students with their homework and organizes volunteer activities and outings for them, with the goal that they will do well in high school and go on to college.

It's a personal mission for Doyle, who said she benefited from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as she was growing up.

"That's what kind of spurred on GROW," she said.

Over the summer she took the group to Washington to visit museums and get a taste of life beyond Roanoke. Doyle also has taken her charges to volunteer with the annual Pack the Bus drive that provides school supplies for low-income students. They also visited a pumpkin patch recently.

Now Doyle is working to get the group registered as a nonprofit organization and to see it expand to other middle schools in the city.

"She's, like, the best teacher we can have," eighth-grader Brianna Sprouse said. The GROW program "kept me out of a lot of trouble that could have gotten me, and it's just, like, a fun outing. You can come out and get sunshine."

Although Brianna will be going on to high school next year, "she [Doyle] made me promise to come back" and visit, she said.

Superintendent Rita Bishop, who accompanied Doyle to Richmond, called her "one of the best teachers I've ever known. She's the real deal."

In May, Doyle was named the city teacher of the year. That qualified her to compete for the regional teacher of the year, an honor she won last month. Now that she's been named the state's top teacher, she'll go on to compete for the title of national teacher of the year, an award that only two Virginia teachers have won since 1966.

At Monday's celebration, Roanoke School Board Chairman David Carson noted that there are 99,105 teachers in Virginia.

"Your teacher, Stephanie Doyle, was selected out of 99,105 people," he said, setting off huge cheers and foot stomping from the hundreds of students in the bleachers. "And the best teacher in this state is right here."

"This is a great day for all of us," Bishop said. "We're just so proud of you, Stephanie."

Once the speeches were over, students lined up to hug Doyle.

"This is bigger than I could ever dream," she said.

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