By Chase Rossman, ’17

Recent SPCS graduate Ashley Pride, GC’16, knows a thing or two about going back to school — elementary school, that is. As a fourth grade teacher at J.H. Blackwell Elementary School, Pride has been responsible for guiding countless children one step closer to commencement. However, her own path was unclear when she decided to pursue her master of education in curriculum and instruction.

Unlike her fourth graders, Pride had no academic path in place, though she had some idea of what she wanted in mind. “I wanted to learn more about education and possibly be able to take my career to the next level where one day I can help more than just the students in my classroom.” But she wasn’t satisfied with just any degree program: “I wanted a quality education experience that would meet my needs as I worked full time.”

Pride eventually set her sights on the University of Richmond’s graduate education program through SPCS, a choice she hasn’t regretted. “I didn't know anyone who had gone here, which made my experience even richer because it was all mine. When I got here, it did not fail [to meet] my expectations; it actually exceeded them.”

She grew to love the school’s environment, and found it easy to relate to her professors. “I love the class sizes, and all of my professors have been very knowledgeable, easy to talk to, and super helpful, even outside of their office hours.”

Pride found especially helpful that her professors brought their teaching experience into the classroom: “Each of them has taught in a classroom before and could shed light on so many different experiences that teachers face day to day. This made it easier to relate to them and feel a real connection.”

Going back to school as a full-time teacher does not come without challenges, though it is manageable. “The biggest challenge for me returning to school has been finding the right balance between work, school and personal life,” Pride recalled. “Being able to find time between writing lesson plans to get school work done and to also make time for myself has been challenging but yet very doable.”

The benefits of returning to school far outweigh the drawbacks according to Pride, citing personal growth in her field as the greatest advantage. “The biggest reward of returning to school has been the knowledge I have gained about my craft as an educator. It has been so rewarding to take what I have learned in these classes, not only from the professors but also my peers, and bring it back to my very own classroom.”

Pride’s advice to others considering a return to school is to make sure they are principally motivated by self-improvement. “If a colleague asked me about returning to school, I would tell them to make sure this is something you WANT to do. I wouldn't advise doing this because you want more money or because it sounds like the right thing to do. It has to be something that you want for yourself or otherwise it won't mean as much to you.”

Pride believes self-motivation is the key to being successful in any classroom, whether as teacher or student. And she is very pleased with the results of her dedication. “You have to be willing to make some sacrifices at times, but you have to keep in mind that it will be all worth it in the end.”

Pride’s time at the SPCS has been remarkably worthwhile. “Being in school has definitely helped me to grow as an educator and as an individual. I feel like who I am now is a lot different from when I first started this program, and that is so rewarding within itself. Being a part of this program has been one of the best decisions I have made.”

Although she stressed the importance of returning to school for personal development, the impact of her Richmond education will surely be felt in the classroom. Pride believes a better understanding of her students, gained through the diverse perspectives she has encountered at SPCS, will stay with her through J.H. Blackwell and beyond.