Class Act

Following teaching stints in Florida and Louisiana, a young educator finds her career home at The Salisbury School

Written by Alison Pappas  |  Photography by Pamela Aquilani

When first-grade teacher Vanessa Fennell came to The Salisbury School in 2019, she brought with her an impressive educational background from the University of South Florida and a decade of diverse teaching experiences. She spent her first four years
of teaching at a Florida school that was rated as a Top-100 school by U.S. News & World Report. From there, she transitioned to a Louisiana school, where she taught kids in
an underprivileged area.

Vanessa’s husband later received a job offer from Salisbury University, so the couple relocated to the Eastern Shore. Soon after moving, Vanessa gave birth to twins and then began looking for a new teaching opportunity.

“After having my twins, my perspective on the type of school I wanted to pursue completely changed, because I wanted my children to go to a school that I not only wanted to work at but also where I could take them with me. I was sold immediately on The Salisbury School,” expressed Vanessa. 

On her first official day at The Salisbury School, Vanessa followed her tradition of instructing her new students to draw a self-portrait. In her past teaching positions, this first assignment often presented challenges; however, it went extraordinarily well this time.

 “It was the easiest first day I’ve ever had. The students were so equipped and ready to go, and they knew what they had to do. They were confident in their art skills. I think the biggest thing that stood out to me was the joy I felt from all the kids. There were no kids who looked stressed or upset. They loved being here.”

As Vanessa settled in at The Salisbury School, the small group intervention opportunities stood out to her as a true differentiator from other schools. During reading and math times, she typically has four teachers in the classroom, to ensure each child is receiving the attention and care they need. The Salisbury School shares Vanessa’s outlook on the value of experiential learning, which is essentially learning by doing. With the school’s support, Vanessa infuses experiential learning into her lesson plans as often as possible.

“For example, when we talked about animals and the environments they live in, the lesson included reading, watching videos and participating in partner research projects, but then we took it one step further, by going to the zoo and doing a picture scavenger hunt,” shared Vanessa.

COVID-19 affected most industries; however, for education in particular, the pandemic presented extreme challenges. When quarantine restrictions first took effect, Vanessa quickly and creatively sprang into action to ensure that her students’ educational needs would continue to be met.

“From week one, I started doing YouTube videos. The great thing about the YouTube videos is that my students could pause and rewind until they grasped the material,” she shared. 

“Vanessa’s YouTube videos have had more than 20,000 views. They definitely have gone way beyond her class and have been used by many other teachers,” shared Dr. Andrea Vandiver, head of the Lower School.

Vanessa balanced her YouTube videos with live Zooms to help accommodate the different needs of the parents’ schedules and the children’s varying learning preferences. She also conducted one-on-one Zooms for children who needed additional help and interaction.

While quarantining forced a physical distance, the teachers across The Salisbury School were able to come together virtually to create student clubs that covered various fun topics, such as mad libs, mysteries and origami.

When students arrived back at The Salisbury School last fall, Vanessa took extra measures to help them feel comfortable as they transitioned back to in-person learning. This included decorating their desks as Jeeps to make the social distancing a little less intimidating.

“I tried to keep my normal activities but looked for ways to slightly alter them to ensure they were COVID-safe,” shared Vanessa. 

The Salisbury School is a half-century-old institution that provides award-winning education for pre-K through 12th grade. It is currently accepting applications on a rolling admissions basis. CS