It is with great joy that our School Board of Directors awards Renee VanNaarden the Lion’s Pride award for October 2012. She was nominated by a fellow teacher who wrote that, “Renee embodies all that is good and right in American education. She is the consummate teacher—professional, extremely dedicated, concerned, empathetic, and caring. In the years that she has been teaching, Renee has matured into what all of us in education aspire to be: an inspiration to colleagues, a motivational model for her students, and a great source of pride for the Lower Moreland community.”
It is hard to believe now, but Renee did not set out to be a Spanish teacher. She thought she was going to be an English teacher, which was what her first job out of college was after majoring in English and Spanish. She actually had her first teaching job in the high school from which she graduated. She then taught in Massachusetts for three years when her husband was transferred, before moving to this area. She did substitute teaching while her three children were younger. One of her substitute positions with Lower Moreland was as a long-term substitute Spanish teacher. This position required a great deal of courage on her part given that the bulk of her experience was in English, but it turned out that she loved teaching Spanish and she happily accepted a contract teaching Spanish when it was offered to her.
Initially she travelled between Murray Avenue and the High School, but now she is happily immersed in the High School. She started the Spanish Club around 17 years ago at the High School since none had existed. The event for which she is now famous throughout the community is “Dancing with the Spanish Stars” extravaganza which will have its 6th performance in March. We expect that the High School Auditorium will be packed once again.
“Dancing with the Spanish Stars” got its start through cultural activities that the Spanish Club was doing including dancing flamingo. Renee has brought in professional dancers to assist with the event, but she has been able to find students in the Club who dance competitively. As the years have progressed, she has been able to get a former student to teach the dancing, but Renee still spends countless hours ensuring that this presentation is a night to remember. This event used to be free to attend, but when the students decided that they wanted to give something back to the community, a $2 admission fee was established. This past year, the nearly $1,000 in funds raised were donated to the Foundation for Lower Moreland Schools.
Renee is motivated to go above and beyond her teaching duties because she enjoys the positive vibes that she gets from the students and she enjoys seeing them grow and be challenged. Her own kids laugh at her because when a school year is ending, she will say that she doesn’t think she could ever enjoy a group of students as much as she did those who are departing. Then when the new year starts, she won’t be able to stop talking about how great her new students are. Renee is also motivated as a former Lower Moreland parent who sent her three children here. As a parent, she volunteered at each of our schools and, as a result, got to know so many of her fellow teachers and gained such a respect for the faculty and programs. Her daughter went on to go to the University of Pennsylvania and then obtain a Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her middle son went to Lehigh University and then to Villanova Law School. Her youngest went to Princeton. She is also a proud grandmother of three with a set of twins on the way.