Normally, Sharon DeBragga stands backstage, clapping her hands and beaming proudly while students for whom she's found scholarships receive their awards.
But she was the one who was honored recently when she received the Bruce Oliver Leadership Award at a Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Partners in Education breakfast.
"I was totally shocked; I never was so surprised in my life," said DeBragga, the career development coordinator at Mountain View School. "I was there attending the breakfast as the liaison from Mountain View."
THE PARTNERS in Education program is a county initiative that encourages partnerships between schools and businesses. And DeBragga's award was presented at the program's annual kickoff breakfast, Oct. 25, at the Waterford in Fair Oaks.
Bruce Oliver was the former principal of Thoreau Middle School in Vienna, and was one of the pioneers of business/education partnerships in the county. He instituted one of the first such FCPS partnerships with Navy Federal Credit Union. When he retired, Navy Federal honored him by creating this award in his name, and DeBragga was thrilled to receive it.
"It was probably one of the highlights of my professional career," she said. "Career education can sometimes be on the back burner, and it's rare that you're recognized by your peers."
A resident of Chantilly's Greenbriar community, DeBragga has been Mountain View's career development coordinator for seven years. As such, she's responsible for career education — particularly helping students establish goals for the rest of their lives and implement a plan to reach them.
And as the school's business/education partnership liaison, she's also involved in business and community outreach. "We have a formal partnership with Digital Focus in Herndon and the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce," said DeBragga. "And we have informal partnerships with two, faith-based organizations, New Life Christian Church and Washington Christian Life Center, which both help with our pregnant and parenting students."
She also chairs Mountain View's scholarship committee, tirelessly raising sorely needed funds to help the school's grads attend college. Largely because of her efforts, the school was able to award more than $30,000 to last year's graduates.
But that's not all. She's co-chair of the chamber of commerce's education committee and a board member of the Centreville Community Foundation.
In addition, DeBragga is on the boards of the Historic Centreville Society, Friends of Historic Centreville and the Virginia Career Development Association — a state organization keeping educators informed about new state initiatives regarding career education.
Mountain View School and its Principal Jim Oliver nominated her for the leadership award. And in his letter to Courtney Bulger, in charge of all the FCPS school/business partnerships, Oliver described DeBragga as "both a valuable member of the Mountain view faculty and a key player in the wider Fairfax County community."
HE WROTE that, as co-chair of the chamber of commerce's education committee, DeBragga works to insure that schools and the business community work together for the future success of both groups.
"It's mutually beneficial for each to become involved with the other," explained DeBragga. "The business community participates in our spring job fair for high-school students, our Reality Store and Ethics Day. And we work with the chamber on these kinds of cooperative programs to help the students develop skills for life."
In his letter, Oliver wrote that DeBragga's "creative and engaging school activities," such as Reality Store, pair students and business partners in real-life situations.
"Students and business people work together to solve issues such as budgeting, conducting a job search and planning for a new addition to the family," wrote Oliver. "In fact, this particular activity was so successful that it has become a staple of transition planning and education for other schools."
He noted that DeBragga also invited Mountain View business partners to visit the school so they could review and consult on student electronic portfolios.
"These portfolios, required for every senior graduate, allow students to prepare themselves for the world after school with a carefully designed resume, cover letter, transition plan, examples of their best work and reflections on their learning," wrote Oliver. "Sharon has presented this novel project to career educators around the state, where her ideas have been well received."
At another business partner/student activity, "Networking," students and business people met at a business social gathering at school, exchanged business cards and held mock job interviews. As a result, wrote Oliver, "Students gained skills in self-presentation, appropriate business dress and comportment. Our business partners had an opportunity to meet our students on a personal basis, and several students received formal interviews for jobs."
He further stressed that, because of DeBragga's "dedication, organizational skills, creativity and ability to make connections with business," Mountain View has won the Business Partnership Award for the last two years. It's a highly prized and quite competitive award. And Mountain View, a small school of only 300 students, won against stiff competition from larger, more affluent schools.
Last spring, DeBragga coordinated Mountain View's 10th anniversary celebration. And as school news liaison, she's broadened the community's knowledge of the important work Mountain View does in alternative education.
"A consummate professional, Sharon bridges the world of education and business, serving both communities well," wrote Oliver. "Through her expertise, Mountain View students find themselves prepared for success in the adult world of work, while the Fairfax business community receives well-educated workers. Sharon is truly deserving of the Bruce Oliver Leadership Award."
HER HUSBAND of 32 years, Don DeBragga — who was present when she was honored — agrees. "I am so incredibly thrilled that she has been recognized for this labor of love that she's worked on since grad school," he said. "It was her master's thesis at UNC Chapel Hill, and she's made it her life's work to help people combine what they're good at with what they like."
He said she inspires him, too, and is "so good with conceptualizing ideas and communicating things to people. Paraphrasing one of her favorite quotes from FDR — "To some generations, much is given; to others, much is expected" — he said, "Whenever I'm trying to get an idea outside the box, I think of that."
Most of all, though, he's proud of the type of human being his wife is and he's glad they're sharing their lives together. "She's extraordinarily empathetic," he said. "And she's a loving, caring person."
As the award winner, DeBragga received an engraved obelisk from Navy Federal and a monetary donation for the school. "To receive an award like this is just about as good as it gets," she said. "I'm very blessed to be at Mountain View and to have won the award."