A few years back, Kerry Richardson noticed that one little boy in her class always seemed sad. A sweet and intelligent child, he rarely misbehaved, but he often came to school in tears. Richardson soon found out the reason: His father was in jail.
Richardson took the boy aside and gave him a hug. “Look, it’s his loss,” she told him. “Don’t think it’s your fault that he’s going to jail and you can’t see him. Don’t let that affect your academics, or your attitude. … I got you.”
She saw the boy begin to brighten, and then thrive. “Straight A’s,” she says. And when she saw the boy’s father, she had a few stern words for him: “Get your [stuff] together. Because you’re hurting your son.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, abashed.
That mixture of kindness and candor is why so many children and parents love Richardson. She was born into a family of educators — her grandfather was principal at the school now called the Academy at Virginia Randolph — and she’s been a Richmond teacher for a decade. She was named teacher of the year in 2014.
When Richardson was starting as a kindergarten teacher at Whitcomb Court Elementary, she discovered that her students rarely experienced the city outside of their neighborhoods. That sparked a personal crusade to secure grant funding for field trips to such places as the Science Museum of Virginia, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the Valentine, the Richmond American Indian Pow-Wow and especially the Children’s Museum of Richmond. Richardson’s personal appeal to donors at the museum’s Carniball gala helped raise $10,000 for field trips.
She also instills environmental consciousness in her young students. Richardson serves as her school’s recycling coordinator and co-sponsors the Go Green Club, which enlists students to collect classrooms’ recycling,
It’s not easy teaching in Richmond, Richardson acknowledges — particularly when mold grows on the ceiling and teachers’ salaries are just beginning to thaw from a long freeze. Nevertheless, she intends to stay. In the city, she says: “I see kids that look like me. They need people who are passionate about them, like I am.”