All her life, Susan Wyatt Helsley ’76, ’85 wanted to be a teacher. When she was a little girl, she and her sisters would play school, and she would always be the teacher. With both her Bachelors and Masters of Music Education degrees from Shenandoah, Helsley was able to fulfill her lifelong dream and teach.
“I wanted to create an atmosphere in the classroom where students were unafraid to take a risk, where they felt supported and cared for,” commented Helsley.
After receiving her undergraduate degree, teaching jobs were scarce so Helsley found a job at Rubbermaid in Winchester where she met her husband, Richard. Shortly after their wedding, Helsely returned to Shenandoah to further her education.
In 1985, she became the Director of Performing and Visual Arts, Northwest (PAVAN). Based on the SU campus, six local school divisions participated in a program that grew to not only include a Summer Regional Governor’s School, but provided school year arts enrichment programs for thousands of students and offered summer arts programs to students from grade 4 through 12.
“It was this position that changed my life!” Helsley proclaimed. “Throughout the 15 years I directed the program, I was able to form deep and lasting connections with my former SU professors who are now colleagues.”
Helsley began teaching choral and general music at James Wood Middle School in Winchester in 2000. In 2006, she began teaching middle school gifted students in Loudoun County, and has since moved up to working with high school gifted students.
“It was quite a shift to change roles from administrator to teacher, but I loved it,” Helsley said. “Connecting with students every day and sharing my love of music with them is wonderful.”
Looking back on her experience at SU and her career, Helsley is grateful to her alma mater for helping to shape her.
“Shenandoah helped me find my voice,” commented Helsley. “I loved to sing, but initially lacked confidence. It was the many professors at SU who confirmed that I could sing and helped me find my confidence. My graduate work only reinforced that belief and I am grateful today for all those who helped me along the way.”
In addition to her involvement on the SU Alumni Board of Directors, Helsley is very active in the Winchester community. She helps with the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, the Arts Chorale of Winchester and the Winchester Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Helsley is very excited to serve on the Alumni Board. She expresses that when you give back to your alma mater, whether time or money (or both), you are helping make it possible for students to have the same opportunities and benefits that you enjoyed as a student.
“Financial gifts enable SU to move forward and ease the financial burden for current and future students,” explained Helsley. “I’ve found that by donating my time to SU I have the opportunity to forge new relationships with students and staff. To me, it is a win-win situation for both SU and for me!”
Helsley still is singing and recorded a CD with the Arts Chorale of Winchester where she is featured in a duet. She is also an active member of the Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) and looks forward to the yearly in-service conference. This year she is excited to promote Spring Alumni Weekend to all the alumni who attend VMEA.