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Kelly Tilton Elias, 30

Fithth Grade Teacher, Bellwood Elementary School

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On the first day of school at Bellwood Elementary, a particular segment of fifth-grade pupils are especially excited: They get to have Mrs. Elias.

Kelly Tilton Elias began teaching at Bellwood in Chesterfield County as a substitute six years ago. She's since proven herself to be one of its most engaging educators. And last year her high-energy teaching style helped earn her the school's Teacher of the Year title.

But there were also reasons that went beyond the classroom.

As a Title 1 school, Bellwood has a population of children from the lowest income bracket, most of whom come to school with baggage: homelessness, drug abuse, jailed parents, deported parents and poverty.

“She does the job of accepting students at the many levels they come to her at and bringing them to where they need to be,” school counselor Kirk Irby says.

In addition to volunteering with a number of school-sponsored programs, three years ago Elias took the reins of Lunch Date with the Future, which engages fifth-graders in manners and etiquette lessons. Their new social skills are practiced alongside community members who donate time to share a business-casual lunch with the children. Elias also has broadened the program's reach by taking it to the Web at valunchdate.com.

“Over the years,” Elias says, “I've learned that high expectations, community-building and communication can create amazing success both in and outside of the classroom.”

Her latest project is writing a blog with her husband, Joe, www.therivercityview.com. It's focused on guiding young couples to notable local events and restaurants.

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