Six teachers leave the nest after years of influence

Teachers Suzanne Hamilton, Mike Martin, Allie Firebaugh, Mary Mordica, Meredith Holder, and Luanne Lyons will retire after the 2017-2018 school year comes to a close. photo courtesy Chip Carter

Success is not achieved overnight, brought on by a single event, or attained by the acts of a single person. In the eyes of many Godwin students, the road to their success undoubtedly began with one or more of the dedicated teachers at Godwin.

This year, students will say their final farewell to six teachers, all of whom have paved the way for the future success of thousands of students.

Exceptional education teacher Suzanne Hamilton, woodshop and photography teacher Mike Martin, English teachers Mary Mordica and Luanne Lyons, physics teacher Allie Firebaugh, and guidance counselor Meredith Holder will be leaving Godwin at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.

Hamilton began teaching at Godwin during the 1994-1995 school year.

“I have always felt that to teach was my destiny, to spend the better part of my career at Mills E. Godwin High School was a privilege,” said Hamilton.

Although Hamilton is leaving, she believes the school and its community will always be a part of her life.

“The bond that exists between teachers, students, parents, and administration is so special. It is a bond that not only nurtures students, but pushes them to be extraordinary in all parts of their lives,” she said.

Hamilton also mentioned that, as a teacher, being part of her students’ lives allows her to help bring out the good within them.

“The Eagle family goes the extra mile to be helping, loving, and caring, making all students feel like they are a part of something,” she said. “I have been blessed to be a part of this for so long.”

Woodshop and photography teacher Mike Martin taught at Freeman High School for six years and two years at Moody Middle School before coming to Godwin for the 1994-1995 school year.

“I had a great first year, and I actually did my student teaching here,” he said.

Martin also coached boys soccer at Godwin from 1994-1996.

“I inherited a strong boys soccer program and was able to be a part of their first Regional Championship,” he said.

While at Godwin, Martin enjoyed inviting or having students invite guest speakers for his photography classes.

“The experience of that has given many of them the confidence to go out and shoot professionally themselves,” he said.

Martin also had advice for current students and future Eagles.

“Take advantage of the many opportunities available here. You want people to be glad you were here, not glad you’re gone,” said Martin.

After leaving Godwin, Martin will be participating in Henrico County’s Post Retiring Earnings Program, or PREP, where retired employees work for the school system for 24 days out of the year.

“Hopefully, I will get some of my days at Godwin,” he said.

Martin will also be teaching whitewater kayaking for Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as guiding rafts for Riverside Outfitters, an outdoor recreation facility near the James River.

English teacher Mary Mordica taught in Winston-Salem, N.C. for seven years before arriving at Godwin for the 2000-2001 school year.

“My first year was crazy. I taught 12th grade, 10th grade,  remedial, and yearbook,” she said. “I was busy. I taught classes that I had never had before.”

For her first seven years, Mordica taught both seniors and sophomores and then transitioned into teaching only seniors. For her final year, she has returned to teaching both sophomores and seniors.

Her classroom was also home to the school’s Writing Center.

Mordica said her favorite memories as a teacher were when her students would learn new things on their own as a result of her teaching. Through class discussions, Mordica said she was able to see students connect their own lives to literature and realize a deeper meaning about themselves or the larger world in general.

“I love when former students reach out years later and let me know how senior English affected their later lives. I live for those moments,” said Mordica.

While Mordica taught in room 71, she first taught in a trailer for 10 years. Mordica used poems to convince former Godwin Principal Dr. Dave Myers to move her into the building.

“I guess he gave me the classroom to stop the poems,” she said.

Mordica said that while the media may report negatively about the current generation of teenagers, she sees them as compassionate, inquisitive, and clever students who she has a tremendous amount of optimism for.

“Each year of teaching has brought me a deeper understanding of literature with each new class of observers and thinkers,” she said. “Working in a high school has also kept my musical interests fresh and growing.”

English teacher Luanne Lyons arrived at Godwin for the 2007-2008 school year, but taught at Deep Run High School for two years after before returning to Godwin for the 2010-2011 school year.

For her first year, Lyons taught three 10th grade classes and two ninth-grade classes.

“My first year was wonderful. It was an adjustment since I taught seniors for 15 years and had a block schedule,” she said.

Over the years, Lyons believes school spirit and intellectual rigor has remained the same, but the community has become more diverse.

“There is more diversity, and I think it is a less insular school than it used to be, which I think is a good thing,” she said.

Some of Lyons’ favorite memories from Godwin are the school’s pep rallies and annual Veterans Day assemblies, to which she says not all high schools have.

“It speaks very high of Godwin’s values, about honoring those who served,” she said.

As a teacher, Lyons says she will miss teaching literature such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Lyons particularly loves when students make discoveries within her class.

“They happen at the most unexpected places, and I’ll miss that terribly,” she said.

Lyons said that she will also miss the thing that is the community of a classroom, and how students each year offer different characteristics and quirks.

“It doesn’t always happen, but it is just a beautiful thing,” she said.

She encourages students to think differently about how they learn new things.

“Don’t fixate on the grey. Think about the larger picture, and if you actually wrap your mind around a new way of learning. If you pursue the learning, the grade will follow,” she said.

Lyons also encourages students to think about what they want to do in life after Godwin.

“My words of wisdom are to do what you love and love what you do,” she said.

After leaving Godwin, Lyons will also participate in the PREP program and volunteer more often. She will also travel more often and visit her parents, who currently live in Missouri.

“We need bright young people to enter the field of education. The work may not bring you accolades even if it is done well, but it is extremely gratifying,” she said.

Physics teacher Allie Firebaugh arrived at Godwin for the 2015-2016 school year.

“While my first year was a little scary and intimidating, I was also excited to start working with new colleagues. Above all, I was incredibly inspired by my students to start a new chapter in my life,” she said.

During her three years here, Firebaugh also taught oceanography and coached the school’s girls softball team.

Some of her favorite memories are with students directly.

“I’ll never forget when a troubled student, who often got into trouble, came to me for help and advice one time. I was able to help him through a tough time, and we built a meaningful relationship that has lasted past his graduation,” she said. “Being a source of inspiration for him means a lot to me.”

Firebaugh believes that thinking about her students’ needs and listening to their feedback gave her a better opportunity to connect with them and become a better teacher.

“I wanted my students to know how much I cared for them by listening to them,” she said.

She also said that learning about managing a classroom with different personalities opened her eyes to see how different people are on the inside.

“They have inspired me in ways they will never understand. They make me curious about their personal interests and have allowed me to broaden my own scope of the world,” she said.

Firebaugh said she will miss building relationships with her students.

“I will really miss being a part of this super exciting time in my students’ lives where they near the end of high school and get to start making decisions about what kind of life they might want to live,” she said.

While she may no longer be teaching at Godwin, Firebaugh hopes to continue to coach the girls softball team.

“I have so many fond memories on the softball field working with our goofy, but truly lovely young ladies. I hope to continue to work with these ladies and the other coaches for many years to come,” she said.

Firebaugh hopes her students never give up on their search for finding what they are passionate about.

“The sky isn’t the limit, nor is the universe,” she said. “The only limits that exist are those that we create for ourselves.”

Guidance counselor Meredith Holder also arrived at Godwin for the 2015-2016 school year.

“My first year was fantastic. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming,” she said.

Holder’s favorite memory of Godwin is the school’s annual Safety Day.

“I liked seeing students dress up to get in the spirit while completing all the mandatory drills,” she said.

She believes that the interaction with her students made her a better guidance counselor overall.

“Students would ask probative questions leading me to research answers if I was unfamiliar,” she said.

Holder’s favorite part of being a guidance counselor was to interact with students all day and step away from her computer and other work on her table. She encourages students to step outside of their comfort zone and take advantage of opportunities that are not normally offered to them.

“I like to encourage students to take advantage of different opportunities. Further, it is okay to fail at something. It leads to growth and appreciation in their future successes,” she said.

After leaving Godwin, Holder will be counseling in Hanover County, closer to where she lives.

Holder said she will miss Godwin’s staff, students, and community overall, as well as their positive attitudes. She also mentioned the impact students had on her.

“They encourage me to consider all solutions and helped me with technology questions as well,” she said.

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©2018 Eagles' Eyrie - the school newspaper for Mills E. Godwin High School in Henrico, VA

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