First Lady of Virginia visits East Salem Elementary School

Third-grade teacher Marcus Crowder (left) and First Lady Pam Northam (middle) answering a pupil’s question.

While Governor Ralph Northam was providing remarks at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute on Thursday, December 6, his wife, First Lady Pamela Northam, visited East Salem Elementary School to celebrate Computer Science in Education Week.

For nearly two hours, Virginia’s First Lady went into several classrooms to participate in robotics and unplugged coding activities, interact with students and staff and give students words of encouragement.

Marcus Crowder, who has taught at East Salem since 2013, said his students were thrilled to meet Virginia’s First Lady.

“It was an absolute joy and privilege to have met Mrs. Pamela Northam. I was so pleased with the willingness of Mrs. Northam to jump right into the lesson and begin working with the students,” Crowder said. “During the entirety of her visit with my class, she was constantly walking around the room, interacting with the students and really asking thorough and thought-provoking questions. During our short conversation, she was extremely complimentary and personable.”

As the Director of Instructional Technology and Accountability for Salem City Public Schools, Jennifer Dean works with the school division on instruction and assessment systems throughout the year. Virginia is the first state in the U.S., according to Jennifer, to adopt computer science and computational thinking as core subjects for all students.

“The Governor’s office contacted Salem City Schools about the possibility of visiting some of the work that is going on with Computer Science in the school division,” Dean said. “The students enjoyed interacting with Virginia’s First Lady. They were excited to share what they were learning about algorithms, coding and engineering concepts. The students were so engaged in the work they were doing, they kept working while talking to her.”

Aubrey Northam, the First Lady’s daughter, is a certified professional coder, something Mrs. Northam mentioned to members of the Girls Who Code organization.

“When Aubrey was younger, she was great at puzzles and loved to express herself artistically. Today, she solves problems to make apps as well as websites,” said Mrs. Northam. “She loves her job, but she is one of only a handful of women in her organization. There are so many opportunities out there for genius young women like yourselves.”

East Salem Elementary Assistant Principal Wes Thomas was proud of the way the students handled themselves throughout the day.

“They were engaged, participating and collaborating in the lesson, however, when someone spoke to them or asked a question, they willingly answered and asked some of the adults to participate with them,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to imagine having a better day from start to finish.”

According to the Governor’s office, Virginia has the third highest concentration of technology workers in the country. While computing is the primary source of new wages in the nation, the Commonwealth ranks first for overall number in computer science jobs.

First Lady Pam Northam has been many things throughout her professional career: a high school biology teacher, a community outreach coordinator for a nonprofit environmental group and a pediatric occupational therapy specialist. The University of Texas and Baylor University alumnus has stated several times that her education advocacy is some of her proudest work to date.

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