Outside there is a steady staccato of rain — a pat, pat, patting on the windows that keeps time with the chaos and crunch of wet-soled sneakers on concrete. Inside Cooke Elementary School though, first grade teacher Laura Beth Lawver’s smile is pure sunshine; a welcoming beacon for students and their families even on the rainiest of days.
“She is nothing short of amazing,” said Cooke Principal Barbara Sessoms. “I can’t begin to tell you how much she means to this school and to our students.”
A Princess Anne High School graduate, Lawver knew that there was no place she would rather teach than at the Beach. So after college she accepted a position at Cooke, where she is now in her ninth year teaching. She is also the sponsor of the school’s Anchor Club, an after school program for students deemed homeless. There, she said, her eyes were first truly opened.
“Before Anchor Club I didn’t really know how much homelessness affected this community,” Lawver said. “I don’t think a lot of people really understand how many of our students and their families are facing these challenges and how that follows them into the classroom.”
Lawver remembers that first year having a student that was more than a handful in class. It wasn’t until she volunteered as an Anchor tutor and saw her student in the program that she began to understand what was behind his behavior. Two years later, tutoring wasn’t enough and Lawver stepped up to run the program. Still, she felt she needed to do more.
“The thought of sending them home every afternoon to do homework in a hotel room, to a place where there isn’t room to play or a warm meal just broke me,” Lawver said. “Anchor was two days a week but it wasn’t enough.”
So she turned to Virginia Beach United Methodist Church. Thanks to their partnership, Anchor Club has grown leaps and bounds and now offers students a safe and education-rich environment Monday through Thursday every school week — two days at Cooke and two days at the church. Students get a warm meal, homework help and a place to play. But the students aren’t the only ones who have gotten something out of Anchor Club, Lawver said. It has changed her as well.
“I am a much different teacher, a much different person, since working with the Anchor Club because it opened my eyes to what our students bring with them into the classroom,”Lawver said. “They call me the school social worker because when families need help, they call me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
There isn’t much that makes Lawver’s smile waver. That is except for the thought of children returning to Anchor Club year after year. It breaks her heart to see students come back, she said, because that means their families are still struggling with homelessness.
“You love them so much, but the best gift in the world is if they don’t come back,” Lawver said. “Not seeing them means they’ve moved on to something more stable, a better home. And that makes your heart feel good.”
People often tell Lawver she should consider going into administration. She just smiles that wide, unabashed smile and shakes her head. Her heart is in the classroom. After all, she is a believer — in the ability of all children to excel; in a shared culture of responsibility where families, schools and the community help children flourish.
“As teachers what we do goes way beyond reaching a child academically,” Lawver said. “If we are doing it right, what we do as educators also lifts children up and meets their needs.”
Compass Keepers Q&A:
What is your favorite pastime?
Playing with my daughters. (Ages five and 18 months)
What is your favorite book:
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
What is your favorite television show?
What is your favorite kind of music?
What would be your dream vacation?
I’d love to travel to Australia.