Faculty & Staff Profiles

Faculty Spotlight: Lower School reading specialist Beth Reeves
Posted 04/07/2016 05:52PM

Her mother was an educator and her older sister was majoring in education, but when Beth Reeves headed to college, she knew she wasn’t going to be a teacher “because I wanted to do something different.” 

She was intrigued by a psychology course that had a focus on advertising, but an internship in California the summer after freshman year made her realize advertising wasn’t for her.

The summer after her sophomore year, Reeves worked as a teaching assistant for a Title I program in her hometown of Glassboro, New Jersey, and toward the end of the summer, the lead teacher asked what she was majoring in. Reeves said she really didn’t know, but it was time to declare her major. The teacher asked if Reeves had considered education. “I said, well, I probably should.”

Reeves had embraced working with the Title I program that summer and she had always enjoyed being with children. “I loved babysitting when I was growing up. I was one of those young adults who loved entertaining the kids. The others were wanting to go do adult things and I loved reading to the kids, being with the kids.”

She graduated from Rowan University with a degree in education and a certificate in reading, taught kindergarten and first grade in New Jersey, earned a master’s degree in reading and got her first job as a reading specialist, but not the job she was aiming for. Reeves interviewed for a job as a reading specialist at an elementary school, but she was asked if she would consider working with middle school students, and that’s the job she was offered.

“I decided to be brave, so I went ahead and accepted the job and I loved it, I absolutely loved it. I was working with kids in sixth, seventh and eighth grade who were reading on second-, third- and fourth-grade levels. It was wonderful to be able to support them and help them have the right, can-do mindset.” When the job of middle school language arts coordinator came open, Reeves was offered the position, and she was doing a job she loved when her husband’s work brought them to the Research Triangle.

“I landed in North Carolina with a baby and was expecting another in January, and it was time to be a mom and stay at home.” Her daughters, Kylie and Paige, were just 16 months apart, and after a while a neighbor noticed that Reeves’ life was going from home to playground to grocery store to home. The neighbor was an educator, someone Reeves talked with a lot, and she told Reeves she had heard there was an opening for a teaching assistant at Durham Academy.

Reeves came to Durham Academy in 1994 as a first-grade teaching assistant, was a fourth-grade teaching assistant her second year and became a third-grade teacher her third year at DA. A few years later she moved to second grade, and was happily teaching second grade in 2012 when Mary Kendall, Lower School reading specialist, announced her retirement.

“Mary and I spent lots of time together and we spent a lot of time talking about literacy, but I didn’t think about applying for the reading job. Teaching reading was my passion in life, but when I landed at Durham Academy, Mary was here. I thought, OK, my life has taken a different path and quite frankly I fell in love with Durham Academy, then my girls came to Durham Academy and our family fell in love with Durham Academy.”

Reeves realized that it had been two decades since she had worked as a reading specialist, and thought DA was probably looking for someone who’d been in school a little more recently. But her interest in teaching reading was piqued when she represented DA at a social studies conference and attended several break-out sessions on literacy. Reeves knew then that she had to follow the same advice she had always given her daughters.

“I always tell Kylie and Paige to dance, you know the Lee Ann Womack song I Hope You Dance.” Through the years she had encouraged them to heed the song’s lyrics “I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, Never settle for the path of least resistance, Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin'.”

“I thought I needed to walk the talk. I threw my hat in the ring and was offered the position. It did take courage. … It was a national search, and I had to be interviewed by my colleagues. There were some other applicants of great quality.”

Reeves’ life in education has covered lots of ground, but she laughs when she recalls that daughter Kylie was the first to observe that Reeves managed to skip fifth grade, both as a teacher and a student. She has taught kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eight grade, but not fifth. And a quirk in her student journey kept her out of fifth grade.

When Reeves was a child, her family transferred to France for a year due to her father’s job with Mobil Oil. She took French lessons with her family prior to the move, but she was far from fluent and was placed in fourth grade in France, rather than entering fifth grade as she would have in New Jersey. When the family returned to the U.S., she attended sixth grade.

Reeves laughs when she remembers her first day of school in France. One parent took her middle-school-age sister to school and the other took her 3-year-old brother. Reeves was dropped off at the playground where elementary children gathered until the school day began. “I heard a whistle blow, and all the kids got in lines. I looked for a line with kids about my size and joined the line. A teacher began calling names. My name is Mary Elizabeth and I was known as Mary Beth as a child. I heard them calling Ma-rie, Ma-rie. I don’t know how it registered, but I finally realized, oh my goodness, that’s me!”

The experience of attending school in France, where she understood little of the language, had an impact on Reeves. “I just faked it until I made it, truly.” She doesn’t want that to be the case with her students, and uses visuals to help emerging readers. “It’s also important to help children to relax and feel like they are safe.”

Reading came easy to Reeves, and she loved to read as a child. “We had a fabulous librarian in my elementary school, Mrs. Boyd. I can still picture her.  … When I went back to visit [the school] years later, I did not realize that the library was this little hole in the basement. She made it so magical.” Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books were an early favorite with Reeves. When she was France, Reeves and her sister read Nancy Drew books and acted out the mystery stories at an empty house in their neighborhood. The Nightingale is a recent favorite of Reeves, and she especially likes that it depicts strong female characters.

Strength is also apparent in Reeves, who has rebounded from two events that had tremendous impact on her life. Reeves was home recovering from routine surgery in July 2002 when she began experiencing a stabbing pain in her back that turned out to be a pulmonary embolism. It took months for her to recover, and she wasn’t able to return to school until October.

A thunderstorm in July 2003 stuck a blow to the Reeves family. When Reeves’ daughter went upstairs to retrieve a shirt for her dad, who had gotten wet in the storm, she came back downstairs saying something didn’t smell right. The house had been hit by lightning and “the top of our house went up like a gas grill.” The family lived in an apartment for two-and-a-half years before their house was rebuilt.

Afterward, Reeves was especially proud of her daughters, who “just went on with life and did what they had to do. And those firemen will forever be my heroes. It was remarkable what they did. You really start focusing on what’s really important in life. It’s not the material things. It’s how you come together, the quality of your time together and not the quantity of things you have.” 

Reeves continues to have a passion for teaching. She wants to empower her students, help them acquire a can-do mindset and have fun while they are learning. 

There’s a phrase Reeves uses when she helps kids develop their reading skills, when they learn techniques like “scooping up words” and “reading text like you are talking.”

The phrase is “for the rest of your reading lives,” and Durham Academy students will likely remember Reeves for the rest of their reading lives. 

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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