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Patterson Boltz Named VFW Virginia Teacher of the Year

January, 22, 2021 - Mrs. Gabrielle Patterson Boltz, aVFW Award fourth-grade teacher at Baldwin Elementary School, exemplifies what it means to not only be an exceptional teacher but a lifelong learner. She encourages her students to ask questions, study history and apply the lessons they learn from it to their lives. It is those qualities that made her a standout candidate and winner of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Virginia Teacher of the Year award. Patterson Boltz will now compete for the national title.

“I was very surprised and honored to find out I had been nominated, let alone won this award,” she said. “I felt very validated with the work that I do to teach my students to be inquiring historians.”

Each year the VFW hosts the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award program, which recognizes exceptional teachers who are committed to teaching their students about democracy, civic responsibility and patriotism. A winner is chosen from each the elementary, middle and high school level. 

“The most important thing to me is when students leave my classroom, that they leave with more grace, compassion and understanding in their hearts,” said Patterson Boltz.

She said she always wanted to be a teacher, and has a passion for learning and sharing what she’s learned with others. Patterson Boltz began taking child development courses while still in high school and soon after started student teaching.

In 2013, the Pennsylvania native moved to Virginia to begin teaching at Baldwin Elementary. She has taught preschool, second, third and fourth grade.

Melissa Neal, K-12 Social Studies Specialist for Manassas City schools, nominated Patterson Boltz for the honor because of her dedication to her students, school and colleagues.

Patterson Boltz

“[She] instills in students a desire to learn and achieve by role modeling this behavior,” Neal said. “Although she has recently earned a master’s degree in education, she is always looking for ways to learn more, too.”

When she’s not teaching, Patterson Boltz enjoys reading, traveling, hiking and going to museums and historical sites. She loves social studies and inspires her students to think like historians—educating themselves about the whole narrative and making themselves familiar with all the voices of the story.

“There is so much to our nation's narrative, that it is easy to just go with the cliff-notes version, but that isn't the version I think we should rely on,” she added.

Virginia Studies is Mrs. Patterson Boltz’s favorite subject to teach, noting she encourages her students to be inquisitive and “recognize there are different perspectives to every story, and those perspectives will affect how you interpret events.”

Neal praised Patterson Boltz for encouraging her students to explore history and her willingness to learn alongside of them. According to Neal, Patterson Boltz made the transition to distance learning with ease due to her use of technology tools and collaboration methods.

“[She] has an understanding of the individual needs of her students and uses this to create high interest, effective lessons,” Neal explained.

Patterson Boltz was featured as a “Teacher Spotlight” during a January school board meeting for her collaboration with Haydon teacher Amanda Cline. Together the two have developed interactive video lessons called “History Today!”

Patterson Boltz said her success as a teacher is largely due to the support she has gotten from her team and administration. Her relationships with her students also play a large role.

She said mistakes are a learning opportunity in her classroom, and she encourages students to feel safe enough to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them. She wants her students see history in the same light.

“My hope is that as budding historians, they can recognize the mistakes our nation has made, while also celebrating the victories, own that it's not all sunshine and rainbows and take action to do better for our society.”

Above all else, Mrs. Patterson Boltz wants her students to be excited to learn.

“Mrs. Patterson Boltz brings her passion for history and dedication to teaching the importance of democracy to her fourth-grade students,” said Baldwin Elementary Principal Laura Goldzung. “We are so proud of her and thankful for her continued leadership in the area of Virginia Studies.”