Earlier this summer, Robinson Secondary School teacher Cara Lambert received a pre-back-to-school surprise. The Virginia Business Education Association (VBEA) had named her the 2013 Al Roane Middle School Business Teacher of the Year.
“It was exciting,” said Lambert. “This wasn’t my chosen career to begin with, but it’s a career that I love, so it’s nice to be recognized. Anyone would enjoy winning an award.”
With a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in management information systems, Lambert was once a stockbroker and worked in international data communications, before choosing to live at home full time to raise five children.
When the 21-year Chantilly resident decided to re-enter the workforce, she sought a job that would allow her to spend more time with her family during their school breaks. “With a business background,” Lambert said, “I thought, I could be a business teacher.”
Now entering her eighth year teaching, and even nearing the end of a hectic first week of classes, she is all smiles. “I’m very grateful because I ended up loving it. I really like what I do and a lot of people can’t say that.”
LAMBERT IS STARTING her fourth year at Robinson teaching basic and advanced computer elective classes on the middle school side. She drew the attention of the VBEA with her “innovative ideas in the classroom,” according to Stephanie Holt, VBEA board member and program manager for business and information technology for FCPS.
“And she’s one of the few teachers who has implemented the middle level of FBLA (an extracurricular club and competition team for Future Business Leaders of America),” Holt continued. At the high school level, Robinson boasts a nationally competitive 250-person FBLA organization. With the luxury of being structurally linked with the high school, Lambert is able to tap those FBLA resources in the form of student mentors for her middle school version.
As part of only a handful of middle school programs in the county, Lambert’s 20 to 25 FBLA students compete in national contests, sponsor outreach activities such as Robinson’s annual gingerbread house competition and learn basic business-friendly organizational skills in a social environment.
Also on Lambert’s award winning resume: starting a Robinson video game programming club (which has since been taken over by high school teacher Carol Wilt), facilitating and assisting in an open computer lab for students to do homework after hours or get extra help with PowerPoint presentations, and just simply being a great educator.
“She has a wonderful rapport with her students,” said Holt, who has spent time sitting in with Lambert’s classes. “She has great different tips and tricks to keep students interested in the projects. She makes lessons come alive.”
“A large part of it is being a mom,” said Lambert, with regards to liking teaching. “I just have a lot more kids here. About 300 a year.”
FOR EACH OF THOSE 300, having a higher level knowledge of programs like Microsoft Office, a confidence with various new digital devices, and business-minded organizational skills, is more important than ever. “They have to have a basic concept of databases, because they’re everywhere,” Lambert said. “How are they used, why are they important—they use those skills in high school and college.”
Or in the job market. Lambert’s programming initiatives have sparked interest that students carry into high school with higher level programming classes, knowing all the while that field of employment is full of opportunities.
“For the first time,” said Holt, “our students really have the chance to learn a lot of technology skills, instead of just being expected to know how to use the computer.”