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Employees Provide More Than Support

Of the three Fairfax County Public School staffers named support employees of the year, two work in Reston schools.

Judy Davidson, a mathematics instructional assistant at Forest Edge Elementary, and Irvin Greene III, a public health training assistant at South Lakes High School, were the two Reston winners.

The other winner was Michael Horgan, manager of engineering and logistics in the FCPS Department of Information Technology.

The support employee awards are equivalent to the teacher of the year awards in that they are given out to those who make outstanding contributions in the school environment. The winners were culled from an original pool of 150 award applicants.

<sh>Irvin Greene

<bt>A South Lakes student recently approached teacher Neil Costello and asked whether Costello, or instructional assistant Irvin Greene, was in charge of Costello's Work Awareness in Transition class.

Costello decided to play around with the student and said, "Mr. Greene is in charge." The student said, "I thought so," but then asked why Costello is always handing out papers and taking attendance. Costello answered that he sometimes helps Mr. Greene when he's too busy.

"We kind of goof around with it," Costello said, describing the classroom dynamic between him and Greene. "We hold different titles, but the students would never know it. It's a team teaching type setup. He teaches right along with me."

In the Work Awareness in Transition class, Greene works with learning disabled (LD), emotionally disturbed (ED) and mildly retarded (MR) students. In the class, students learn job skills and are set up with internships at local businesses. Depending on their performance, the students often end up with full-time jobs by the end of their internships. In the classroom, students learn work behaviors, they explore careers, they learn self esteem and they learn what it means to have a positive attitude.

"He just has a knack for communicating to kids how you're supposed to act," Costello said. "He's an unbelievably patient person. He's been in some of the hardest situations, when students have become really disruptive, and he's able to calm them down, just with his demeanor."

GREENE SAID he would rather handle a problem in the classroom, instead of sending a student to the principal's office.

"A student may come up and grab you, not fighting, just some students are like that," Greene said. "As soon as a student puts his or her hands on you physically, some people freak out. But, its easier to deal with that on the spot, instead of going through all the paperwork. And the students appreciate it, too."

Greene also serves as an assistant coach with the South Lakes varsity basketball team. He was coaching a local summer league team when he first met South Lakes basketball coach Wendell Byrd.

"[Byrd] said, 'One of these days you might be on my staff," Greene said.

And in 1989 it happened, when Byrd hired Greene as coach of South Lakes' junior varsity team.

The 14 members of the varsity team all signed a letter recommending Greene for the support employee award. The team members praised Greene for his sincere advice on and off the court. The letter said that Greene often accompanies team members when they go out to eat before games. After the games, Greene will often hang around to make sure the players have a ride home.

"We all want to grow up with positive characteristics like him," the letter read.

Eventually Greene would like to become a teacher, and he is working toward that goal. He has completed a two-year degree at Northern Virginia Community College and he is taking teacher certification classes.

"He has the qualities of a veteran teacher," Costello said, "which you don't see a lot of in support staff. He would be hired in a second in the county."

<sh>Judy Davidson

<bt>Judy Davidson admits that math was never her best subject when she was a student.

"I was a language arts person," Davidson said. "But I discovered, as a volunteer with Hunters Woods, that math is pretty cool."

Davidson's "discovery" of math came when a parent approached Gioia Forman, then principal of Hunters Woods. The parent said her son, a fourth grader, was not being challenged by the standard math program. So, Davidson gave the student the chapter tests, spanning the entire school year. He understood all the material, save a few items.

"I said, 'We need to do something for this child,'" Davidson said.

She developed a high-level instructional booklet and gave a copy to the student, along with a few other fourth graders who also excelled at math. Whenever the students finished their regular classroom instruction, they could pull out their packets and continue working.

The packets were so successful that, when the next school year came around, Forman asked Davidson to develop similar packets for second, third and fifth grade students, as well.

"It was a boatload of written material," she said. "But I still see parents in the grocery store who tell how much the booklets helped their children."

NOT ONLY DOES Davidson sponsor the Forest Edge math club, she created the Forest Edge Math Olympics program, which has been in place for 10 years. For the program Davidson writes a set of grade-sensitive tests each month, testing students' word problem skills. The students with the highest test scores get their names posted in the school.

"The Forest Edge administration noticed that problem-solving skills were weaker than they should have been," Davidson said. "We decided that if we did a monthly problem-solving competition, and posted the names of the high scorers, it might be a solution."

Student achievement went up right away and now Forest Edge is usually among the top ten percent of schools in the national Math Olympiad contest. Last year, the Forest Edge sixth grade team won the competition.

BUT DAVIDSON does not work exclusively with mathematics overachievers. As the school's FAST Math teacher, Davidson works with English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) students, to help them keep pace with their peers. She makes FAST math questions more computation based, so that new English speakers have an easier time following the material.

"On word questions, we all read them together, instead of assigning a bunch of them for homework," Davidson said. "And I write my own tests. I don't use the ones in the book. They're too wordy."

Davidson teaches 69 FAST Math students at Forest Edge, which has a high concentration of ESOL students.

Forest Edge principal Frank Bensinger first met Davidson 15 years ago, when he was an interim assistant principal at Hunters Woods Elementary. At that time, Davidson had organized an after-school "homework shop" for students who lived at the county-owned Stonegate Apartments.

"She would ride the school bus with the kids to the apartments, teach the students, enlist other teachers to volunteer to instruct and assist the students, provide snacks for the students, and buy or hustle rewards from the community for the kids who came on a regular basis," Bensinger wrote in a letter nominating Davidson for the award. "I was so encouraged by her efforts that I, too, volunteered to help. Judy has that effect on people."

In 1990, when Bensinger took over as Forest Edge principal, the school had a vacancy for an instructional assistant. Davidson was the first person he called.