From Alumni to Staff: Four Arcadia Graduates Now Teach There

From left are Arcadia High School teachers Larry Marshall, Jonta Ward, Alyese Justis, and Tyshawn Marshall. Photo by Stefanie Jackson.

By Stefanie Jackson – Arcadia High School has created an educational environment that encourages its former students to return as teachers, as four young adults demonstrated during a recent interview with the Eastern Shore Post.

The teachers, who are African American, are all alumni of Arcadia High School who graduated from historically Black colleges and universities and embarked on diverging career journeys, yet they all found something that beckoned them home.

All four of the teachers’ lives and careers were influenced by their choices of extracurricular activities at Arcadia High School and their relationships with teachers and family members on the Eastern Shore.

Alyese Justis, who teaches family and consumer science, graduated from Arcadia in 2009, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and is now a fifth-year teacher.

Justis participated in school activities including Family, Careers and Community Leaders of America, also known as the Future Homemakers of America.

All signs pointed to her becoming a teacher, but initially she “ran from it.”

Family and consumer science teacher Barbara Taylor “paved the way for me … made me into the teacher that I am,” Justis said.

After graduating from college, Justis worked for an international hotel and resort chain and was working her way up the corporate ladder when her mother, who was an administrative assistant at Arcadia, was complaining about a substitute teacher shortage.

Justis wound up becoming a substitute teacher and learned she loved working with kids.

Then one day, Taylor disclosed her plan to apply for a food service manager position in Accomack schools. She encouraged Justis to apply for her position teaching family and consumer science. Both women succeeded.

Larry Marshall, who teaches technical education, graduated from Arcadia in 2007 and received his bachelor’s degree from Virginia State University, about 25 miles south of Richmond.

He didn’t go to college with the intent of becoming a teacher; he studied industrial engineering and logistics technology, and after graduation he began working as a sales manager.

Marshall worked in various locations, including the shipyard in Salisbury, Md., and a company called Structural Technologies in Manassas, Va.

He said he’d always wanted to return to the Shore but didn’t know what kind of career he could have there. Marshall’s mother, who worked at a local poultry processing plant for 35 years, always had encouraged him to follow a different career path than she did.

He first considered teaching when his girlfriend, a teacher at Nandua, let him know about an opening there, but Marshall was an Arcadia “Firebird for life,” he said.

He applied for a position at Wallops Island, but the hiring process was lengthy. Marshall submitted an application online for a technical education position at Arcadia High School, and about 20 minutes later, he received a call to schedule an interview.

His first cousin, Tyshawn Marshall, is a second-year health and physical education teacher who graduated from Arcadia in 2011. He also received his bachelor’s degree from Virginia State University.

Tyshawn Marshall was heavily involved in high school sports – football, basketball, track and field – “I did it all,” he said. 

But perhaps the most influential activity in which he participated was the marching band, which he said was “the only reason” he went to college.

Owing to his involvement in marching band, at first Marshall considered majoring in music, but his interest in athletics ultimately led him to major in health and P.E. with a minor in sports management. He planned to work with college athletes.

Marshall was in the U.S. Army from 2016 to 2019, and he served nine months at the Camp Casey military base in South Korea.

After he completed his time in the military and was looking for a job, a friend who was a teacher, Dorian Johnson, told him that Arcadia needed a P.E. teacher. 

Marshall applied for the position while he was in Ohio, working at a football camp, and “a couple of days later, they told me I got the job,” he said.

Jonta Ward, a sixth-year business teacher, graduated from Arcadia in 2007 and received her bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University.

Ward, an honor student who was eleventh in the graduating class of 2007, was a member of the FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), and Beta Club. She also participated in basketball and track and field.

Her aunt, Tangela Ames, “always tried to push me to do more,” Ward said.

Ames was a business teacher at Arcadia High School and had accepted a new job opportunity in Maryland. She told Ward to apply for a teaching position at the school because “someone was leaving.” Ward didn’t find out that the someone was her aunt until after Ward was hired.

She named math teacher Donna Killmon, who is now retired, as an influential and beloved educator. (Nandua Middle School Principal John Killmon is her son.) Donna Killmon loved to teach and Ward “wanted to give to someone else what she gave to me,” she said.

Justis agreed. Killmon “made math make sense,” she said. She was strict but she didn’t yell at students; instead, she used sarcasm to get her point across, Larry Marshall said.

One of her familiar sayings, “That’s why your grade looks like it looks now,” is used by Ward today, and her peers have similar means of nudging their students back on task.

For these four teachers, the Eastern Shore’s rural nature was part of what drew them back home.

Tyshawn Marshall said he prefers “country living” to an urban environment, what his cousin called “street and pavement.” Ward agreed and said across the Chesapeake Bay, even the cookouts are not the same.

Larry Marshall likes living on the Shore for the peace and quiet, closeness to family, and familiarity with others in the community.

“There’s no place like home,” Justis said.

The teachers agreed that “everybody knows everybody” on the Eastern Shore, which makes it easier for them to connect with their students.

For example, a student might discover that one of her teachers and her mother went to school together, and once that connection is made, “it’s a done deal,” Justis said.

Larry Marshall said when he attended Arcadia, “a lot of teachers … didn’t know who they were teaching,” but when he became a teacher he thought the students might “respond better to somebody who sat where they sat.”

Having grown up on the Shore helps the teachers relate to their students because they had to deal with the same types of distractions from schoolwork, such as part-time jobs.

Larry Marshall remembers what it was like to be tired at school after working late the night before. He tries to be “lenient but stern” with students and notes that a teacher cannot be a student’s friend.

Justis said the key is “the tone you set from the time they walk into class,” because they will test the boundaries and “see how far they can go,” Ward said.

One of the ways Larry Marshall earns his students’ respect is through transparency – the lesson plans he posts in class are the same plans his submits to Principal Shaun O’Shea.

The teachers shared some of the strategies they use to manage their classrooms and keep the number of behavior referrals they write to a minimum.

Tyshawn Marshall said he has curbed foul language in class by making a student do 10 push-ups every time he cursed.

Larry Marshall found that the solution to a student who wouldn’t stay seated in class was making him stand.

Justis said she doesn’t like to embarrass students, and she will often speak to a student after class about a behavior that needs improvement – a strategy that also is popular with the other teachers.

Ward said she often contacts parents regarding student behavior in class. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, depending on the student, she observed.

Sometimes a teacher will send an offending student to in-school suspension for the remainder of the class time, but referrals are rarely written.

Larry Marshall expressed his appreciation for Principal O’Shea and the “great job” he does. If a teacher needs help with classroom discipline, sometimes all it takes is for O’Shea to stick his head in the door because he’s so well-respected by students, Marshall said.

When asked what advice they want to give their students, Marshall told them to take advantage of their education while it’s free, because education is one thing that no one can take away.

Tyshawn Marshall agreed. “Appreciate school while you’re here,” he said. He also recommended that students consider joining the military after graduation, because it provides life experience, teaches self-reliance, and pushes one’s physical limits to levels “that you didn’t know you could achieve.”

Ward affirmed that different experiences are good – even if it means leaving the Eastern Shore for a while, because it makes one appreciate home, Larry Marshall said.

Another concern the teachers shared for their students is that “everybody wants to be famous,” even though fame does not equal success, Justis said. Neither does fame guarantee happiness, Ward added.

Justis tells her students that no matter what they do or become, “be the best one you think you are.”

Larry Marshall’s advice is to not worry about what others think, and even in the face of failure, “just pick yourself up … don’t stop trying.”

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