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Teacher Lives On Through Wolftrap's Technology Lab

Vienna community celebrates opening of $800,000 Candace Leyton Innovation Learning Lab, a gift from a former student of the late teacher.

When Chris Shumway started third grade at Wolftrap Elementary School in 1973, he had no real academic goals, he said.

He was into sports, and lived them — but that was just about his only focus. Luckily, he said, his teacher Candace Leyton recognized a competitive spirit in him and used it as a tool to teach.

"She saw in me I think an unlimited potential," he said of the late educator, who taught for more than 30 years in Fairfax County Public Schools. "I didn't realize it at the time, but she changed the direction of my life and help shape who I am today. I came into third grade an average student and ended believing I could do anything."

The investment Leyton made in a young Shumway changed the direction of his life, he said. And while he never got to thank Leyton, who died in 2003, in person, the Vienna native helped celebrate the opening of a lab in Leyton's name on Monday — a chance for him to pass the opportunities the late educator once gave to him on to other students in the Wolftrap community.

Leyton loved to teach math, and also engage students in it, Shumway said; "it was an infectious way of teaching something," he said. "She really believed in a sense of accomplishment."

Shumway first approached then-principal Anita Blain about the idea in 2009. It was formalized in 2011; crews broke ground on the addition last May. Construction took about nine months.

He donated $800,000 for the lab, which covered the cost of the addition — at the front center of the school — as well as the technology and materials within it.

Leyton's husband, Peter, and their family donated additional money that will cover three years of teacher training, specifically in math and technology, the school said Monday.

It's the first lab of its kind in Fairfax County.

"This would thrill Candy. She loved teaching but she especially loved teaching math. She had the ability to light up a room and make people laugh," Peter Leyton said of his late wife, who taught at Wolftrap from 1971 to 1994. "But she was always in search of innovative ways to teach math to make it fun and exciting and this lab is really fitting for that."

"We are so glad that she made a difference in your life and that you can make a difference in so many others," Leyton told Shumway.

A group of more than 100 — including Superintendent Jack Dale, Vienna Mayor Jane Seeman, School Board member Patty Reed (Providence) and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (Hunter Mill) — turned out to celebrate the opening of the lab, which boasts technology-driven, interactive elements and equipment, including a green screen, smartboards, tablets, robotics materials, cameras, video and photo editing software and tools like Wii and Skype.

There are no desks; instead, there are moveable, adjustable chairs and tables that can be moved to fit the lesson at hand.

Imagine, Principal Teresa Khuluki challenged the group Monday, students traveling back to ancient Egypt via green screen, using the tool to interview Pharaohs and play the segment back for their classmates.

Imagine sixth graders using Wii and tablets to navigate the human nervous system and workings of the body; fifth graders talking with a Nasa scientist via Skype.

Teachers will work with Wolftrap technology specialist Mathieu Campet to plan lessons in the lab, he said. Campet is also planning to start new programs, including several that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) elements and a club that specifically engages girls in those topics.

Khuluki said the lab is not only a beautiful addition to the school, but more importantly, it is helping give "a new vision for the future and current students of Wolftrap," Khuluki said to the group. "We are working to create and nurture innovators and not just simply educate students."

Dale, after seeing a video by sixth grader Will Hertzler — who used legos, photo imaging and audio editing to create a reel imitating the day's events, including a speech from the superintendent — said too often in schooling adults try to control the direction of learning too much.

"And what we need to do is get out of their way," he said, noting the lab will help students take the wheel in a very real, but guided, way.

Shumway, who went on from Wolftrap to Madison High, the University of Virginia and Harvard Business School, now spends his days and nights reviewing ideas for investments —questioning assumptions, attempting to project the future of certain industries and imagining their possibilities.

He innovates in his field every day, he said.

"Innovation starts at a very young age. ... If you give [kids] the opportunity to be innovative at a young age they'll carry it throughout their lives," he said. "Mrs. Leyton showed me that you can learn a lot from your mistakes and you can learn to innovate as well from your mistakes as you can from your accomplishments," he said. 

"Great teachers do make a difference."

Check later today for more video from the lab; see a clip of the ribbon cutting in the media player at right.

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