D. Denise Elder, Lucille M. Brown Middle

  • Denise Elder helps a student working at the board. What started in 1987 as a break from the demands of the restaurant industry has turned into a 30-year career nourishing the bodies and minds of RPS students.

    When D. Denise Elder graduated from Virginia State University with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, she thought her career path was pretty well set. After a few years, the crazy hours and instability of life in the restaurant world soured Elder on the industry, and she took a job as the cafeteria manager at Broad Rock Elementary School to get control of her hours.

    “I was just going to work for schools for a little while,” Elder said.

    But after stops at the cafeterias of Armstrong and Oak Grove, Elder served RPS as the cafeteria manager at George Wythe High School from 1991 to 2005. The Brunswick native then spent one year in Dinwiddie schools before returning to RPS, but in a different role.

    “When I was cafeteria manager, sometimes I would get in the classrooms, and we did some sampling signs to encourage students to try new foods,” she said. “It was so sad, I found that some of them couldn’t read.  So I thought I’d try the other side of the line.”

    In 2006, Elder became a substitute teacher at Lucille M. Brown Middle School. The next year, she was an instructional assistant, and in 2008, she had finished her education requirements and became an exceptional education teacher. She’s been having a positive impact on student achievement ever since.

    “Her presence there, we know, makes all the difference,” said Dr. Stacy G. Gaines, Lucille M. Brown Middle School Principal. “She’s a straight shooter, and she’s not afraid to raise the tough topics, but she can also bring a light-heartedness to any situation.”

    For her part, Elder loves coming to school.

    Denise Elder “Sometimes I skip up the walk,” she said. “I’m happy to see the kids– some of them are so funny– and I like to interact with them and the staff.”

    Elder said that there are challenges in today’s education world as well, noting that she wishes there was a greater emphasis on teaching cursive handwriting, pushing students to memorize math facts, and generally allowing teachers more flexibility. The volume of paperwork, especially in exceptional education, can also be a challenge, she added.

    “The job of education is to teach you how to think,” she said. “I’m not working with a number, I’m working with a child.”

    And those children are what motivates her to work hard every day, in spite of the obstacles.

    “Sometimes, you reach them....and that’s the whole thing,” she said. “When a kid’s struggling and struggling, and then one day, he pushes you away and says, ‘I’ve got this!’”

    Elder raised four children– all graduates of TJ or George Wythe– including her daughter, Stacey V. Elder, who graduated at the top of her class at Virginia State University this past May. When she isn’t teaching, she loves spending time with family, music, and video games, including Just Dance and Ms. Pacman. Elder is a member of Wilson Chapel Baptist Church in Brunswick.

    At RPS, our strength is RFamily, and we thank YOU, Ms. Elder, for feeding the minds and bodies of so many RPS students through the years!