Faculty & Staff Profiles
Stephanie Pollard didn’t learn to love learning until she was in college. She credits her Davidson College history professors with igniting her passion for knowledge, and Pollard is determined that her Durham Academy third-graders won’t have to wait until their teen years to feel the same way.
Pollard arrived at Davidson not really knowing what she wanted to study. She had always been a math person, but history classes were what grabbed her attention at the liberal arts college. It was the first time history class wasn’t a set of facts, a list of dates to memorize.
Her history professors “made it so much more real, and some of them were just amazing storytellers. You felt like you were lost in a story in class. I think having the experience of the professors I had at Davidson made me realize I have enjoyed learning so much. I can’t just learn for a living. Maybe I can go into teaching.”
Armed with a B.A. in history, she enrolled in 1998 in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Queens University, where learning got even more interesting. With her love of math, she thought she would breeze through a math methods class. But Pollard’s professor asked a question that stopped her in her tracks.
“On the first day she asked how do you divide by a fraction. Everyone said you invert and multiply. Then she asked why. No one had any idea, and it shocked me. It shocked me that I had no idea why you inverted and multiplied. She gave us all these materials — grid paper and manipulatives — and said, OK, figure out why you invert and multiply. It was so amazing to me. I did figure it out and it made perfect sense. I was 22 years old, I knew how to do it, but I had just memorized it. … It was so exciting to see that you could still learn and that you could learn in ways so different than the ways we learned.”
Pollard brings that excitement of learning into her classroom.
“I want to give children the gift of discovering something, having something make sense, not just memorizing to pass a test. It’s really about enabling them to make those discoveries and be curious. It’s so much more beneficial for the kids. They are going to be able to apply the things they learn.
“I think that’s one of the benefits of Durham Academy. You don’t have the pressure to spoon feed all that information to pass a test and then move on. I think it’s great we’re able to educate the whole child here. … Teachers are able to encourage and develop the habits of learning instead of memorize and drill.”
Pollard’s teaching career began in Albemarle, a small town in Stanly County. She taught in Title I schools for five years while her husband, Chris, was coaching baseball at Pfeiffer College. “I had done my student teaching at Davidson Elementary. This was a very different teaching experience but I just loved it, I loved those kids so much. It was very, very challenging, but it was fun. They really needed their teachers. I put a lot of time into those kids, and I still miss them.” She hears from a number of her Albemarle students through Facebook, and she is thrilled that at least one of them is studying to be a teacher.
The Pollards moved to Boone when Chris was named head coach at Appalachian State University, and after staying home a year with their first son, Pollard began teaching kindergarten at Blowing Rock Elementary. “I never thought I’d teach kindergarten, but that was the only job that was open and I loved that, too. The community was very different than the Albemarle city schools where I’d taught before. In Stanly County, we desperately wanted parent involvement and it just wasn’t there.”
Parent involvement was great, and Pollard thinks being a parent herself has changed her as a teacher.
“It used to be a challenge when I had kids who had a hard time sitting still or learned in a different way. … Now I see how different every child is. It’s a blessing that I get to be in here with them and help them recognize their strengths, work on things they need to work on, but celebrate them as individuals. Everyone brings something different. I tell my classes how boring it would be if we were all the same, if we all learned the same way, if we all had the same ideas.”
After eight years in Boone, Pollard moved to Durham when her husband was named head baseball coach at Duke. She taught at Forest View Elementary for two years before coming to Durham Academy in 2014 as a third-grade teacher. While at Forest View, Pollard earned her licensure in academically and intellectually gifted students from UNC-Charlotte. She worked with gifted education at the public school and thinks it is an area that does not get emphasized as much as others.
“There’s got to be a way that we can serve these kids, too. … Sometimes we get focused on the ones who are struggling, but the ones who are above grade level deserve to have that growth, too.”
Pollard likes building a relationship with her students, watching their growth throughout the school year, seeing their excitement when they are able to do something they struggled with and developing their confidence.
“I think it’s very important to make sure every child is challenged, being able to challenge all of the students at a level appropriate for each of them, see them persevere and develop a new skill or understand something they didn’t used to and see that pride.
“On Grandfriends Day, I love seeing how proud those kids are. They work so hard studying their state. They work on it all year. … I love how the parents and grandparents will sit there and look through everything and give students the opportunity to explain that this is a graph comparing the high temperatures to the low temperatures. … Just seeing that, seeing that pride and knowing that I have in some way helped them develop that is probably my favorite thing about teaching.”
Pollard remembers a faculty meeting years ago when the principal said they couldn’t teach science or social studies because those subjects weren’t being tested. “The only way we could teach science or social studies was if we used that text as a reading lesson. … It goes against the liberal arts education that is so important for exploring. I love that here we can expose children to so many different things so they can find the things they love and do things they don’t love. That’s important, too, doing things that don’t come easy to them is a big part of it.”
Third grade is a time when students begin to navigate more complex social dynamics, and Pollard encourages parents to let children know they can solve their own problems.
“There are small problems in third grade. Kids have to learn that they can do that. That’s good, that’s the training wheels, on this small problem. … And then that enables them, as their problems get bigger, to develop those skills. I know it’s hard. I want do the same thing. I want to jump in. It’s so important to let them do that on their own within reason, so when they get older they will have those skills. That’s so different than the way we grew up.”
Pollard’s family lived in Hickory, and she was the third of six children. “Parenting was so different back then. It was a lot more hands off. The summers are what I think of. My two sisters and I would get on our bikes and be gone all day. We’d bike across town and find a creek. There was always someone to play with and something to do. My mom, it never crossed her mind to play with us. There were three younger than me: a sister and twins. She had her hands full with the younger ones. What I remember most is it was like having friends over all the time. It was a built-in playgroup every day. We’d make up games, do talent shows, get my dad to video us. I don’t know how my parents did it, but I would not trade that experience.”
Pollard liked growing up in a big family. “I loved having all those brothers and sisters. I always thought I’d have a big family. I want to give that gift. Then I had my second boy and I thought, no, it’s just going to be two.”
Her son Thomas is a DA fourth-grader, and Brady is in second grade. Both boys play baseball and between their games and their dad’s coaching, there’s a lot of baseball.
Pollard had never been to a baseball game before she met Chris, who played at Davidson. She’s been going to the ballpark since she was a college freshman, and this marks their 22nd baseball season together.
“The Duke team plays four to five games a week, and there are 56 games in the regular season. We go to all the games we can.” That can range from the boys’ first trip to California to kick off the 2015 season at Cal-Berkeley; to Blacksburg, Virginia, last weekend for the Virginia Tech game; to cheering in the stands at Duke.
Hiking and enjoying the outdoors is the other family interest. The Pollards moved last summer to a neighborhood that backs up to the Eno River, making a hike in the woods as easy as walking into the backyard.
“When the boys and I travel with the baseball team, we have a lot of time to ourselves. We’ll go find trails and hike. We did that last weekend in Blacksburg — we took a four-mile hike to a waterfall. That’s what I enjoy most, getting outside and hiking.”