Debbie Lolla, Life Skills & Founding Teacher
Published March 2016
Hey everyone! My name is Debbie Lolla. I am the K-5 life skills teacher and academic support person. I feel very lucky because I get to work closely with every single lower school student and teacher, every single day! I am also proud to say that I am a co-founding teacher of Woodlawn School. With a grateful heart, I’d like to reflect on how I got here. In 1998, I moved to North Carolina right after I got married. Leaving all of my family and friends and a teaching job I loved behind, it was time to start a new life with my husband. After spending three long and disappointing years teaching in a few different public and private schools in the Lake Norman area, I realized I wasn’t finding a “good fit” for myself as an educator. My career path was forever changed when I met Dwayne and Karen Bowman and Kim Lysne. And so my Woodlawn “story” began!
The foundation for Woodlawn School began simply and humbly around the kitchen table at the Bowman’s house in the early part of 2002. I can honestly say that the idea of starting a school (something I had NEVER attempted to do before) did not seem like an unattainable goal. Teaching children, creating curriculum, utilizing resources in the community, and collaborating with my colleagues has always been a passion of mine so this was a dream come true! After months and months of non-stop planning, I couldn’t wait for our doors to open that September. The first classroom I ever taught in at Woodlawn was Garden Shed North. It served as my home base and classroom for many years as a lower school and life skills teacher. I always loved the floor to ceiling windows on the corner wall of that tiny room because they overlooked our beautiful gardens. They allowed me to look outside everyday and view each season on our sprawling wooded campus. Thinking back, I now consider those windows symbolic; they were a way to see the growth, change, and beauty that was happening inside of the classroom as well. Over the years I taught many students lessons in language arts and social studies. Yet, the most rewarding part of being in Garden Shed was seeing many of our now graduated and current high school and middle school students begin their journey at Woodlawn in that very room: Emma Haupt, Sawyer and Sydney Bowman, Terin Patel, Forrest Daugherty, Zack Scott, William O’Connell, Abigail Haupt,Taylor Scott, Ally Ault, Will Hedrick, Tripp Berini, Megan Dailey, Jack Hager, and so many more. My own daughter, Carmen (a current seventh grader) learned about the history of Jamestown and the poet Walt Whitman in the same room I began teaching those very units. It is a real honor to have been a part of all of their lives, even if it was only for a short time. These days, I find it comforting that I am right back in the place where it all began. Garden Shed is currently my home base as a lower school academic support person. I enjoy working closely with third grade teacher, Jamie Gunby, as she teaches a whole new generation of Woodlawn students.
Our school has changed in so many ways over the past 13 years. But one aspect that remains the same is the commitment to helping every child find their strengths and become independent, lifelong learners. I am so proud to be a part of that journey. I talk a lot about the students who made their way through Garden Shed, yet I always felt like I was the one who “grew up” in that room. My years in Garden Shed taught me the many lessons that I reflect upon today. It is where I continued my own personal pursuit of learning something new everyday, and where I developed my passion for project-based learning. Garden Shed is where I taught my first ever life skills lessons to grades three, four, and five, and it is where I still teach students about empathy and service. It is there that I carried out an integrated curriculum, and it is the place where I evolved as a professional and as a person. Garden Shed is so much more than a classroom to me; it is the place where my Woodlawn journey began!
One final thought...I love the fact that Woodlawn’s mascot is a Trailblazer. To me, a true trailblazer is someone who is willing to try something new, take risks, and leave a path for others to follow. I believe this definition clearly defines who our students are and it best represents my “story” as a teacher at Woodlawn!