When Mary Strickler graduated from Harrisonburg High School at the age of 16, it was with a bad taste in her mouth. She hated school.
But once she got to college and had Ralph Cohen, now an English literature professor at Mary Baldwin University, as a teacher, she knew she wanted to become an educator herself.
“He rocked my world,” the HHS English teacher said. “He showed me how education can and should be.”
From that moment on, Strickler decided her mission was to be the teacher who inspired others, just as Cohen had been to her.
She made the right decision, and now with 38 years of teaching under her belt, 36 at HHS, she has been named the Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year 2020.
It’s been a tough year for students and teachers. In-person teaching was canceled for the rest of the school year beginning in mid-March. Teachers and students haven’t seen each other since then.
It’s been especially hard for Strickler, who describes herself as an extrovert and her students as her “heartbeat.”
It was while cleaning out her classroom on Tuesday that she found out she had been named the Lucy F. Simms Educator of the Year.
“I cannot hold a candle to Lucy Simms,” Strickler said. “But having my name in the same sentence as hers is such an honor.”
Strickler’s candidacy was submitted by her peers at HHS with support from the school leadership team. A Central Office panel evaluated the 10 division candidates, and Strickler’s accomplishments and commitment distinguished her as deserving of the recognition of Lucy F. Simms Educator of the Year.
Under her leadership, HHS students have received several state and national awards, including the Colonel Savedge Award for Sustained Excellence in Journalism and All-American Yearbook first place ranking 11 years in a row, presented by the National Scholastic Press Association.
Individually, Stickler was recognized as Balfour’s 2019 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year.
One retired HHS educator stated that Stickler “never gives up, never tires” and “sees that every student discovers the joy of learning.”
Strickler said she loves taking students on field trips, providing learning opportunities outside of the classroom, planning activities and projects that help students love their community more.
Strickler and her students worked with a school in Africa to produce a yearbook for them. Many of the students had never seen a picture of themselves before that.
She has also published “Rocktown Tales,” first-account stories of students coming to the United States for the first time.
Being away from her students these past few months has been hard. She’s written a letter to almost every single one. And it’s taught her one thing — she’s not ready to retire.
Strickler has a Mother Theresa quote in her car that she reads every day: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across waters to create many ripples.”
The individual school teachers of the year are:
• Skyline Middle School: John Hostetter, language arts teacher
• Thomas Harrison Middle School: Nancy Aigner, English teacher
• Bluestone Elementary School: Sarah Rodgers, dual language teacher
• Keister Elementary School: Annette Fornadel, dual language teacher
• Spotswood Elementary School: Leah Baker, first-grade teacher
• Smithland Elementary School: Andrea Nolley, librarian
• Stone Spring Elementary School: April Elliott, third-grade teacher
• Waterman Elementary School: Kelly Shenk, speech language pathologist
• Elon Rhodes: Kristi West, prekindergarten teacher