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Former student now energetic first-grade teacher at Varnett

Laurel Emmers admits she was a somewhat fragile student when she attended Varnett Academy as a young girl. “I was a crier every day for no reason,” she recalled. “I was a softy and I had to build a tougher self.”

Now, Ms. Emmers finds herself as a first-grade teacher at The Varnett Public School and she exudes enthusiasm and confidence as she holds court with her 21 students at the Southwest Campus. She’s active, enthused and moves from student to student as she helps them with their work. Clearly, she demonstrates she’s in charge of the classroom.

“The supportive environment and teachers had an impact on me growing out of my shell,” Ms. Emmers said in a recent interview. “Now, what I want to bring to the classroom is energy.”

Ms. Emmers, who attended kindergarten through second grade at Varnett, fondly recalls her time at the then-private school from 1992-95. She remembers now-Superintendent M. Annette Cluff when she was director of the school and recalls being a classmate of Mrs. Cluff’s daughter, Melissa Cluff, who is now district director of Pre-K. “We all knew each other and went to each other’s parties,” Ms. Emmers said.

Amazed by changes
And now that she’s a teacher, she’s in awe of the school’s growth since she was student but noted that some things haven’t changed.

“It’s funny seeing the girls in their jumpers, the same ones I wore from the same uniform store,” she said. “It’s exciting to see how the district has come from humble beginnings and now has expanded to three campuses. I’m very proud of from where I have come." Varnett, now a public charter school, has approximately 1,750 students.

Ms. Emmers, 24, grew up in Houston. After her time at Varnett, she attended J. Will Jones Elementary School and then Middle College for Technology Careers High School. She went to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio as a biology pre-med student but switched to education. She earned her education degree after spending 2 ½ years at the University of Houston’s main campus.

Why the switch? She realized that cutting on people and being around blood was not her calling. Instead, she liked children and wanted to teach. “I’ve worked with them since I was 15 as a volunteer and at summer camps,” she explained.

Ms. Emmers earned her first teaching job last year at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, where she also taught first grade. And now, she has come full circle since being hired by Varnett before the start of the 2011-12 school year. Was this her life’s goal? Not exactly, she said, but she likes the way it’s turned out.

“I wanted to move closer to my house and be in a more familiar area and Varnett was in that range,” she said. “That’s why I applied here. I knew people and thought ‘let’s go to a school where I knew I would do well.’ It feels like home.”

Praise from campus director
Twilet Alexander, kindergarten through 5th-grade director of the Southwest Campus, was on the team that interviewed Ms. Emmers before she was offered the job.

“She was very energetic,” Mrs. Alexander said, “When she initially received the call, she told us she could be here within an hour. When she came, she sounded excited and she had energy. She really wanted to come back to the school that gave so much to her.”

Ms. Emmers said teaching first grade is to her liking and calls it a “very intense year.” “Parents don’t understand sometimes how much learning takes place,” she said. “We teach students how to read and the basic skills, but you also apply deep problem-solving techniques.”

She said her values about education are rooted in her family. Her father is a dentist and her mother taught Ms. Emmers and her sister the importance of patience and hard work. Ms. Emmers said she is proud to be the first teacher in her family.

Now at Varnett, where she has a picture of her as a Varnett first-grader in her classroom, it is her turn to help youngsters grow into jewels of the community. “I want to open up the world to them so they can be what they want to be,” she said. “They could be president. I want to make things tangible for them no matter what their background.”
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