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Throughout the summer and fall of 2018, MERC shared stories from each of our school divisions about the importance of relationships in public education in this special series from Abstract. Listen to the episodes below to hear good news in metropolitan Richmond schools.

Petersburg: Sha-Lah Solomon and William McClain

When Will McClain transitioned into a new role as assistant principal at Petersburg High School in the 2016-2017 school year, Sha-Lah wasted no time in introducing himself and making sure he felt welcome. As the senior class vice president and a leader on the varsity football team, Sha-Lah has already impacted many people through his instincts for building connections. As someone who knows this first-hand, Dr. McClain is grateful to have met this student who has “leadership in his blood.” Click below to listen to their story.

Powhatan: Angel Rather and Christian Miller

Angel never had Mr. Miller as a teacher, but that did not matter. Their mutual passion for diversity and social justice brought them together to help form the Diverse Hands at Work Club at Powhatan High School. In their first year of work together, they helped grow the club to over 25 members while promoting inclusiveness at their school. As the president of the club, Angel attributes much of its success to Mr. Miller, who she describes as “really really dope." Click below to listen to their story.

Hanover: Emily Hunneycutt and Cindy Sinanian

Emily was one of only a few racial minority students in Ms. Sinanian’s 6th grade class at Chickahominy Middle School. Ms. Sinanian believed it was important to talk about issues related to race and culture with her students, and in doing so she helped Emily feel like she belonged. Emily also began to see her own potential for advocacy work, and attributes this to Ms. Sinanian for providing the space for her to learn and grow in unanticipated ways. Click below to listen to their story. 

Goochland: Samantha Martin and Elizabeth Kuhns

On the day that she was supposed to graduate from Goochland High School in 2017, Samantha Martin texted her alternative education teacher Elizabeth Kuhns with a simple but urgent question, "Can I come back?" Now a proud member of the class of 2018, Sam is the only student in Ms. Kuhns' 28 year career who dropped out of high school and returned. Click below to listen to their story. 

Henrico: Kamryn Smith and Queen Bailey

Kamryn Smith met her assistant principal Queen Bailey in her freshman year at Douglas Freeman High School. Now a junior, she believes she can go to Ms. Bailey for anything because she knows that she respects her and will always be ready to listen. Their story shows the kind of impact an administrator can make on a student's life, and how strong relationships begin with trust. Click below to listen to their story.

Chesterfield: Paola Henriquez and Denay Haist

Denay Haist, a teacher at Beulah Elementary School, taught Paola Henriquez when she was in the fifth grade. Paola is now a senior at L.C. Bird High School, and she attributes much of her success today to Ms. Haist, who advocated for her admission to a middle school honors program years ago. Their story captures the long lasting impact of high expectations in public education, and how some teachers just stick with you. Click below to listen to their story.

Richmond: TK Johnson
and Gregory McCallum

Gregory McCallum has been an educator for close to three decades. When he met Tykeria (TK) Johnson in her 8th grade year, he quickly recognized her musical talent and worked with her for the next four years as her band director at Community High School. Now a recent graduate, TK is on her way to the Berklee College of Music in Boston as a percussionist. She credits this huge accomplishment to Mr. McCallum, her “father in music." Click below to listen to their story.


Among its five core principles, the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) recognizes the importance of relationships. We believe that what we can accomplish together is stronger than what any one of us can accomplish alone, and our potential for making an impact in our schools is based on the connections that we build. Similarly, we believe that relationships are at the foundation of public education, and that there are countless connections in our school divisions that drive the important work that they do.

We call relationships many different things in education. Students with a higher sense of belonging tend to feel more connected with their school, teachers, and peers, which often relates to better academic performance (1). Students who are emotionally engaged in school tend to have more favorable interactions in the classroom, which can contribute to higher interest and investment in learning (2). When students feel a strong sense of relatedness, they are more likely to be self-determined at academic tasks (3). When teachers show warmth toward their students, it can relate to how much resilience they exhibit in the classroom (4). Perceptions of strong relationships between educators and parents tend to predict stronger academic achievement in students (5), higher teacher empowerment (6), and reductions in perceived cultural mismatch between schools and the families they serve (7). Research supports what so many stakeholders from our MERC division schools have told us over the years: that relationships are at the heart of what they do.

The Connections Across Education series by Abstract will showcase and celebrate stories of relationships in metropolitan Richmond schools. Each episode will feature a story about a meaningful connection in our MERC divisions, and illustrate how relationships make the experience of going to school better. Abstract will produce seven episodes in the series, one from each of our school divisions, over the summer and fall of 2018. These stories will lead up to our 15th Annual MERC Conference in the fall of 2018, which will highlight the value of relationships, connections, and collaborations in public education. Episode participants will also take part in a session at the MERC Conference focused on what we learned from their stories, moderated by Brionna Nomi (VCU Curriculum, Culture, and Change), Brian Condit (Richmond Teacher Residency), and David Naff (MERC), who will also host the podcast episodes. 


(6) Flynn, G. V. (2007). Increasing parental involvement in our schools: The need to overcome obstacles, promote critical behaviors, and provide teacher training. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 4(2), 23-30.

(7) Iruka, I. U., Winn, D.-M. C., Kingsley, S. J., & Orthodoxou, Y. J. (2011). Links between parent-teacher relationships and kindergartners’ social skills: Do child ethnicity and family income matter? Elementary School Journal, 111, 387–408.

(4) Pitzer, J., & Skinner, E. (2017). Predictors of changes in students’ motivational resilience over the school year: The roles of teacher support, self-appraisals, and emotional reactivity. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 41(1), 15-29.

(3) Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

(5) Sheridan, S. M., Holmes, S. R., Smith, T. E., & Moen, A. L. (2016). Complexities in field-based partnership research: Exemplars, challenges, and an agenda for the field. In Family-school partnerships in context (pp. 1-23). Springer, Cham.

(1) Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331, 1447-1451.

(2) Wang, M. T., Fredricks, J. A., Ye, F., Hofkens, T. L., & Linn, J. S. (2016). The Math and Science Engagement Scales: Scale development, validation, and psychometric properties. Learning and Instruction, 43, 16-26.