STAUNTON — There’s a lot that Lori Peltonen loves about her job as a high school librarian and media specialist. Maybe at the top of her list is that she gets to work with all the students and teachers, not just a select few. One day that might be an English class. Another it might be history. She even has worked closely with the school’s athletic trainer, Kwadwo Donkor.
Donkor also teaches a sports medicine class in which he incorporates a psychosocial aspect, teaching students how to interact with others, specifically patients. He asked Peltonen if she would collaborate with him on the project. Students reach out to former Staunton High School athletes and ask them about their time at school, including injuries they suffered and other issues they may have experienced. Donkor said it’s really about learning how to gain rapport with those former students, teaching students how to really engage with others.
“Lori is great,” Donkor said. “She does an amazing job with the kids. It’s kind of funny because I don’t have to do as much. She kind of just takes the reins. The kids really enjoy it.”
It’s collaborations like that, in part, that led to Peltonen being honored Tuesday as the Region V teacher of the year. The region includes 20 school divisions, stretching west into Bath and Highland counties, east into Louisa and south into Campbell County.
“It’s an honor and a treasure,” Peltonen said about the award. “It’s like the Super Bowl win for teachers.”
In late September, Peltonen will participate in an interview for the Virginia Teacher of the Year award and get to take part in a reception hosted at Virginia’s Executive Mansion in Richmond where the winner will be announced.
Last spring Peltonen was recognized not only as the teacher of the year for Staunton High School but for the entire school division. She has been the media specialist at Staunton for eight years and in education for 30, first as a middle school teacher before becoming a librarian. She enjoys working with high school students the most of anything she’s done in education.
“The kids exceed, normally, my own knowledge base, especially with technology,” she said. “I learn from them. If I give them a project to do the results that they come up with are sometimes so amazing.”
Staunton Principal Nate Collins called Peltonen part of the glue that holds the school together. Collins loves seeing Peltonen work closely with other teachers, whether that’s going into their classrooms to co-teach or inviting classes into the library.
“I’ve rarely worked with a teacher who has a school-wide impact that she does,” he said.
In addition to the work she does with students and other teachers during the school day, Peltonen also was a huge asset to the Staunton community during the pandemic, delivering Chromebooks and internet hotspots to students at their homes. She’s also been part of a number of grant awards at the school, the principal said.
“I think colleagues would all say she’s just the most helpful, thoughtful, collaborative, pitch in and do whatever we need for our kids kind of person,” Collins said.
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Patrick Hite is The News Leader’s education and sports reporter. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Patrick_Hite. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com