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Two SSSAS Teachers Win VAIS Innovation in Education Award

VAIS Innovation in Education Awards: Lower School Science Teacher Mackie Berro and Middle School Librarian Alicia Blowers both win awards! (Courtesy photo)

St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes Lower School Science Teacher Mackie Berro and Middle School Librarian Alicia Blowers both won the 2018 Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) Innovation in Education Award (One for Lower and one for Middle).

The award recognizes teachers who build connection, cohesion, and community in their schools. Mackie and Alicia were recognized at the VAIS Leading Learning Conference in Richmond on October 29. Three teachers were chosen in Virginia for the award, one from each division (Lower, Middle, and Upper).

Lower School Award: Toy Fair

Mackie received the Lower School award for an innovative idea involving  fifth graders. She decided to replace the physics-themed science fair with a “Toy Fair.” Not only would students create original toys; they would make them and then give them to others to enjoy. The students would use recycled materials, found objects, and were waste-conscious and earth-friendly. Piece by piece, their creations took form as their imaginations took flight. “This toy project transformed my science lab in a way I could not have imagined,” said Mackie. “The children’s industry exceeded my expectations; they demonstrated determination and resilience as they worked in small groups and partnerships.”

The ‘Toy Factory Exposition’ was a joyous celebration of a semester of work and discovery. The gym was transformed into a toy showcase, and original toys and games packed the tables. The entire lower school attended. After the fair, the Director of Service Learning picked up the toys, and her class coordinated with a preschool and took them over to the Child and Family Network Preschool. There, the Upper School service learning students brought joy and laughter to a room of young children and showed them how they could use their own imagination and creativity to create their own toys just like other children a little older than they had done.

“Throughout the semester, I watched my students grow as a community while they made something for someone they would never meet,” Mackie said. “The children did better than merely think outside the box. They took apart the box and created something incredibly wonderful with it—not only for themselves but for others.”

Middle School Award: Saints Mission Day

Alicia received the Middle School award for the creation of Saints Mission Day in April of 2018 where students, faculty, and staff of the Saints community came together for a day of exploring and enacting commitment to service as described in the school’s mission statement. The vision was simple: get to know Saints from different campuses through games and activities, create a communal art installation, and share a meal.

Students heard from Karim Abouelnaga, an activist, a change agent, a connector, an entrepreneur, and a writer. He is also the founder and CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, a benefit corporation he founded when he was just 18 years old.

Following Karim’s address, students and teachers worked in mixed-age groups to explore more of what it means to be of service to others as members of a school community, as neighbors in the city of Alexandria, and as global citizens in the world. As a culminating activity, each member of the community made a prayer flag to represent  hopes and dreams for the community and for the whole human family. The prayer flags are a visual representation of  commitment to service and commitment to community. The flags are also a representation of every member of our community–made by 1,300 people!

Watch the Saints Mission Day video!

Learn more about SSSAS faculty.


Mary Wadland

Mary Wadland is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, founded by her in 2010. Originally from Delray Beach, Florida, Mary is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and has lived and worked in the Alexandria publishing community since 1987.

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