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Dramatic Improvement

Madison teacher is recognized for expanding the school's theater program.

>Concerned about her daughter's shyness, Natalie Vandever's mother enrolled her in a theater class. That decision changed Natalie's life. Not only did she gain more confidence but Natalie became so dedicated to the art form that she wanted to share that love with others.

"Theater was the one class and the one reason I made it through," Natalie Vandever said. "I wanted to give that experience back to other students as it had been given to me."

Vandever's interest in theater and education earned her recognition from her colleagues and students last month, as she received Madison's Teacher of the Year award. The 2004 Triple I award, sponsored by Madison's Academic Boosters and the Student-Parent Teacher Association, honors a teacher's contribution to the three I's: innovation, instruction and impact.

"She's a wonderful inspiration to the kids," said Madison Drama Boosters parent Dorcas Mella of Oakton. Her daughter Heather is one of Vandever's students. "She encourages them to try new things. She really gets them to take an extra step and go for it."

WHEN REFLECTING on what got her started in theater, Vandever recalled the experiences she had at her high school in Kansas City, where she grew up. At school, Vandever participated in the theater classes as well as the school's repertory company.

As a student at Southern Oregon University, Vandever first concentrated on acting but became interested in directing and technical theater during the latter part of her college career. She enjoyed the directing process, which involves taking a script and molding it into being.

"I like the process of creating characters, creating ideas," Vandever said.

After finishing her bachelor's degree in theater arts, she earned her master of arts degree in teaching at Southern Oregon University. She taught in Ashland, Ore., for a year before moving to St. Mary's County, Md., where she taught for two years. Three years ago, Vandever began teaching at Madison.

Arriving at Madison, Vandever worked to strengthen the school's theater program by offering more courses, teaching students self-discipline and time management skills, and building the department's technical theater program.

"You have to create a safe environment where all students can be successful," Vandever said.

She hoped that through the theater program students would not only learn ideas and technique through the classes and the shows but would put those ideas into practice through the logistics of costuming, making sets, financing and marketing.

"Essentially, it's almost like running a business," Vandever said.

THE FRUITS of Vandever's labor have begun to show, as Madison's spring musical "Chicago" received four Cappie awards last year, for sets, band, song and best musical. As a result, the school was invited to participate in the national Cappies program last fall. Vandever acted as company manager and oversaw rehearsals for the three-week program.

"She brings so much energy and enthusiasm as a teacher," said Madison sophomore Kasey Dailey, who played Roxie Hart in last year's production of "Chicago." Currently she is a student in Vandever's Theater 2 class. "She encourages you to be yourself," Kasey said.

When Vandever is not teaching, she enjoys hiking, rock climbing and traveling. This summer, she is being married in Kansas City.

"It's a very supportive community," said Vandever of Madison. "The students come to us highly trained. ... We have a lot of talent to work with, so we're very lucky."

The Teacher of the Year was selected from among 10 finalists, who in turn were among the 36 nominated by students and colleagues. Each nominee received a certificate.

The nine finalists were Gil Fegley, Frank Franz, Brad Linsenmayer, Susan Robeson, Marty Romeo, Larry Saintz, Gideon Sanders, Jason Switzer and Beverly Winder.

Other nominees were Ingrid April-Levey, Becky Barr, Foster Caffi, Carolyn Carroll, Toss Cline, Rick Deltuva, Greg Garrison, Susan Hall, Alta Harrington, Valerie Howell, Gale Kravitz, Matt Kreib, Elizabeth Madero, Brigid McCormick, Nate Nixdorf, Julia Olesak, Corrinne Oliverio, Sue Parker, Pamela Rawlinson, Angie Reinbold, Suzanne Savage, Amy Sharp, Jan Starkey, Laurel Vaccaro, Ray Weber and Deborah Wydra.

In addition to naming Teacher of the Year, the Madison Acamdemic Boosters and the PTSA recognized guidance counselor Rebecca "Beck" Barr with a special lifetime award. Barr, who has worked in the county school system since 1974 and at Madison since 1984, was nominated by her whole department.