Betsy Graves has known that she wanted to be a teacher since she came to kindergarten career day at Wake Forest Elementary School wearing her grandmother’s vest with the ABC’s on it while having her hair in a bun and an apple in her hand.
But Graves, who turns 27 next week, didn’t know what subject she wanted to teach until she was inspired by her dance classes at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School. Now Graves, who was named the 2017-18 Wake County Teacher of the Year on Monday, gets to do what she loves every day as the dance director at Broughton High School in Raleigh.
“I just want my students to find some sort of passion,” Graves said in an interview Tuesday. “It doesn’t have to be dance but something, because to go through life and to not have something that you care about, I can’t imagine.
“I care so much about this art form and my profession, and I feel very fortunate that I get to do it every day, because I’m never bored.”
It’s a busy life for Graves, who juggles a schedule that causes her to stop counting how many hours she spends at school. Broughton gave back to her Tuesday with a surprise school-wide pep rally in the gym.
Graves, who graduated from Meredith College in 2012, has taught at Broughton since 2013. She sets high expectation for her dancers, something she credits to her own experiences when she was a Wake student
Amaya Burnett, 16, a Broughton sophomore, said she still remembers the conversation she had with Graves last school year. Burnett had been apprehensive about starting dancing at so late an age compared to the other dancers.
“She taught me that I shouldn’t put any limits on myself,” Burnett said. “No matter what track you are on, your ability level, how old you are, there’s nothing that can prevent you from being a dancer.”
When Graves isn’t meeting with her dance students during, before and after school, she’s involved in a variety of other activities at Broughton.
Graves directs Broughton’s annual Queen of Hearts formal dance. She leads the annual Powder Puff touch football game for female Broughton students.
“I think it’s important that arts teachers are out into the school,” she said. “I love my program. I could just stay in my studio and do that, but I want my students to know that I support them in other things that they do. It’s not just dance.”
Graves also coordinates the Broughton Food Pantry, which provides food, clothing and other items to more than 40 students and their families each week.
“If one backpack of food is going to help a kid come to school and feel a little bit less stressed, then that’s the least I can do is to make that backpack and take it to their classroom,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to be thinking about where their food is coming from.
“They should just have to be thinking about their learning.”
Graves has also gotten her dancers to use their talents to give back to others.
Graves and her dancers plan dance lessons for the students in Broughton’s self-contained special-needs classes. She and her dancers also provide free weekly dance classes to members of the Girls Club of Raleigh.
“It’s really important for high schoolers, I think, to be something bigger than themselves and to understand that they are one person in this big world and that they need to be giving back and not just staying in their tunnel vision life, because that’s just not a way to live,” she said.
Graves credits her service to what was instilled by her parents, Dick and Ginger Graves, who are ministers at Grace Haven Baptist Fellowship Church in Youngsville.
As Wake’s Teacher of the Year, Graves now represents the district in the state Teacher of the Year competition.
Graves said what’s special about the award is that she gets to represent a district where she attended from kindergarten through high school. Her elementary school physical education teacher, Velma Boyd, still attends Graves’ dance concerts.
“It’s just incredible to stand up in front of teachers that I could have had and in front of my old administrators to represent a county that I believe does produce incredible teachers and incredible students,” she said.
While Graves tries to downplay the award, her dance students will have nothing of it.
“I can’t think of anyone who’s more deserving because she gives 110 percent all the time without fail,” said Anna Rae Wood, 17, a Broughton senior. “It’s just amazing that she does that.”