Nov. 15, 2006 — Music instructor Valrica Bryson of St. Croix Educational Complex has been selected as the St. Croix District's 2006 Teacher of the Year. And it gets even better: Bryson is also the territory's State Teacher of the Year and will represent the territory at the National Teacher of the Year Conference in spring 2007.
In the St. Thomas-St. John district, Lurlene Gerard, a first-grade teacher at Gladys Abraham Elementary School, was chosen as that district's Teacher of the Year. (For more on Gerard, see "Lurlene Gerard Selected as District's Teacher of the Year").
Bryson said she feels wonderful about receiving the accolades and considers it "a great honor" to be recognized in this way.
On Monday, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael announced the selections in concert with the department's observance of American Education Week.
In a press release, Michael congratulated the honorees. "It is most fitting that we recognize our teachers of the year for their dedication to providing our students with the necessary tools to compete and succeed," she wrote.
The honorees are selected during a three-month process by a Department of Education committee. Public school principals nominate the teachers. They are graded on a number of elements, including involvement in school affairs, teaching philosophy and leadership potential.
Bryson's love for music began in Diane Triplett's seventh-grade music class at Elena Christian Junior High School. "Her patience and kindness were profound; she brought out the best in each student," she said.
While attending the College of the Virgin Islands (later the University of the Virgin Islands) in 1984, Bryson met another musical influence in professor Austin A Venzen. "He made me realize that teaching came with the responsibility of demanding the best," she said.
Bryson originally attended the college for its Information Systems program, deciding to work with computers. However, members of her college concert band encouraged her to change her major to her beloved music. The program was music education, and within the program she learned how to instruct students on every instrument, although her instrument of choice was the flute.
Bryson said her most memorable moment as a teacher was seeing one of her students, Kevre Hendricks, graduate and follow in her footsteps. Hendricks is now a third year music teacher at Arthur A. Richards Jr. High School. Bryson said that when Hendricks graduated from high school, he attended UVI and immediately went on to become an amazing music instructor. Hendricks and Bryson now work hand in hand as colleagues.
It wasn't all wonderful moments for Bryson, who began her current music program at the complex 12 years ago in a barren room filled only with lockers. It was then that she made a decision that almost cost her position with the school. "I took a bold stand," she said, explaining that she took out ad space in local newspapers showing the community the lack of equipment and asking for help in equipping students with instruments. "We got our instruments by March," she said, "and somehow we got an ensemble to play for graduation" that same year.
The No Child Left Behind initiative is a complicated issue for Bryson. She said although the program is worthwhile and effective, the added strain over academic advancement has made music a secondary requirement. "Music enhances learning," she said. "Every child should have an experience in a music class because they learn to use both sides of their brain."
In her years at the complex, Bryson has taken her music department from a bare room to a room filled with music, learning and discipline. Her students have traveled the Caribbean, visiting islands like Anguilla and St. Maarten.
Bryson considers herself a strict teacher but says that discipline is essential to musical success. "It is important to maintain discipline in music education," she said. Sometimes getting that message across to students is a challenge. Bryson said some talented students just lack the motivation to continue. "All you can do is continue to talk to them and show them what they can accomplish if they just try," she said.
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