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Anna Turner ’21 Named Richmond Public Schools 2024 New Teacher of the Year

Anna Turner standing next to a second grade student.
Photo courtesy of Anna Turner.

On the last day of school, Anna Turner’s class of second-graders walked out toward the football field, crossed over a creek and stepped into the garden and outdoor learning campus at Bellemeade Park. 

Ever since Turner began teaching at Richmond’s Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary in 2021, she has worked closely with one of the school’s community volunteers, Mr. Bob, to plan lessons here. 

The garden has become a place where her students can learn about the natural resources Native Americans used, discover how food webs work by seeing a worm plucked from a compost heap or simply pick some fresh summer blueberries and sit down with a book. 

Photo courtesy of Anna Turner.

That particular day stood out to Turner because one of her second graders, who began the year working on the alphabet, was reading — and not just reading, but taking on a challenging text filled with new vocabulary. 

“She didn’t give up,” Turner said. “She could have read for an hour, sounding out every single word. I was like ‘OK, I did something this year.’”

According to her school district, Turner has made an impact at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary every year since she started teaching there. In May, Richmond Public Schools recognized Turner for her dedication to her students and support for the school community by naming her the 2024 New Teacher of the Year, an award that honors a teacher with three years or less experience in the classroom.

For Turner, who grew up in Richmond and has wanted to be a teacher since she was in the first grade, it was a validating feeling. 

“I celebrate all of my students’ accomplishments, so when it was my turn to have an accomplishment, they were like, ‘Oh, OK, go Ms. Turner,'” she said. “It was cute, but I would say definitely a lot of the support came from my co-workers who were just telling me that they agreed with the award and that they had seen it coming.”

When Turner earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the NC State College of Education, she was excited to teach in the school district where she grew up, but she was also nervous until she began to realize how much she already knew. 

“The number of times I heard that I didn’t seem like a first-year teacher, that was the best compliment to me,” Turner said. “It made me feel like I really came prepared, just because of the knowledge and the skills that I brought from NC State.” 

Whether it was showing her second graders how to apply the five E’s — engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate — to a math lesson or how to use phoneme manipulation to break sounds apart while reading, Turner found that the concepts and skills she learned in the NC State College of Education allowed her to make an immediate impact. 

“As a new teacher, I thought I would feel like I didn’t know anything, but I actually felt like I was quickly able to provide valuable information because I had just studied all this in college,” Turner said.

Turner also works to support the other educators at her school, whether that’s by lending a listening ear at the end of a long day or by helping to rewrite the district’s science curriculum, a project that has allowed her to apply the lesson planning experience she has gained on her class trips to Bellemeade Park.

“For every science topic I’ve taught, I tried to find a way to get in the garden,” Turner said. “I know not all schools have a garden, but there are still outdoor learning opportunities, so that’s definitely something I plan to incorporate into the new curriculum that we’re writing.”

Her hope is that the new curriculum will allow more teachers to follow in her footsteps and create learning environments where their students can grow.