Valerie Kibler never pictured herself being a journalism teacher, but 32 years later she's still going strong.
Kibler, a 1984 Stonewall Jackson graduate, was selected to the Virginia High School Hall of Fame in February. The induction ceremony will take place Oct. 14 in Charlottesville. She is one of 14 new members being inducted.
Even though she coached volleyball for 20 years, she is going into the Hall of Fame for her journalism teaching accolades.
"It's really quite an honor, especially with it being for journalism because it's mainly coaches and athletes," Kibler said. "I did coach for 20 years, but this is more centered around the journalism aspect. For the fact that it's for something academic, that for me is really cool."
Kibler graduated from Virginia Tech in 1988 and then took a job teaching English at Marion High School. In her fifth year at Marion she said the school's new principal wanted her to take over the newspaper.
"Young teachers have to go from room-to- room-to-room, you don't have your own classroom," Kibler said. "(The principal) called me and said if I would take over the newspaper he would give me my own classroom, and I just said yes immediately just because I wanted my own classroom."
Kibler said she began going to Virginia High School League events and conferences and national conferences, and her passion for journalism grew. She has worked a lot with the National Scholastic Press Association over the years and she is the vice president of the Journalism Education Association.
After 10 years at Marion, she moved back to the area and has been teaching at Harrisonburg High School for the last 22 years.
Kibler helped Harrisonburg's school paper, Newsstreak, grow into a nationally recognized and award-winning paper. In 2014, Kibler earned her master's degree from Kent State University in scholastic journalism education. She now teaches an online course for Kent State as well.
She said a lot has changed in journalism since she started.
"Certainly technology has shifted a lot," Kibler said. "The cost of things have changed kind of for the better, in that we have gone from buying film and developing film to everything being digital. So kids can have higher-end cameras now and learn a little bit more. There's a lot that's available to kids as far as camps and technology – that's shifted a lot, too."
Kibler, who is a Mount Jackson resident, said this year for the first time she is doing the yearbook as well. She said this is the first year she hasn't taught English. She teaches four classes for the newspaper and two for yearbook.
She said adding yearbook to her duties hasn't changed things too much and many of the students do both and work together to help each other. Kibler said she has 80 students in her journalism and yearbook classes combined.
Kibler said she considers herself more of an adviser than a teacher.
"These kids, when they go to a workshop or something, will learn like a specific tech platform or see something that they want to do," she said. "They will come back and we do this thing in the classroom called 'first five,' where they will actually create a presentation and teach the rest of the kids how to do that."
Kibler said that even during the COVID-19 pandemic she has been proud of what her students have done voluntarily.
"It's a crap shoot what you're going to get from kids," Kibler said. "I just knock on wood, I've been incredibly lucky. They have posted on the website (hhsmedia.com) almost every single day, if not multiple times a day since we were out on March 13. And none of that was required from them. None of it was for a grade. So I guess the thing that I'm probably the most proud of is that I've developed a culture of they understand that they are a clearinghouse for news in this school."
She said the students even had a breaking news story during the pandemic, aided by Harrisonburg High School Principal (and former Central Principal) Missy Hensley.
"(Hensley) reached out to one of our reporters, I guess last week, and she gave her the comprehensive list of how we were going to be doing grades, which none of the teachers knew yet," Kibler said. "It was posted on our website prior to any of that happening."
Kibler said that she enjoys meeting other teachers in high school and college journalism from around the country and continuing to learn. However, she said working with the kids is one of her favorite parts of her job.
"On a local level, the kids I get in that classroom are what make it special to me," Kibler said. "It's a collection of all different peer groups, all different cliques, that while they're in that room and in that experience they are best friends and tight. But you might never see them interact in the cafeteria or in the hallways or anything. And they come to that room with a purpose of telling the truth and doing news the right way – the majority of them – and that to me is cool."
Kibler said that she loves her job and is looking forward to many more years doing what she loves.
"When I was little I used to think 30 was old; now to think that I've been teaching longer than that is crazy," she said. "It has flown by. I'm really lucky in that I don't think I've ever had a day where I didn't want to get up and go to work and look forward to it. I've never wanted to quit and this whole COVID business and being stuck at home has made me even more determined that I'm nowhere near retiring, because I'm going crazy. I'm doing more Zoom meetings than any person should have to do. But the kids are great with that. So maybe I've got another 32 in me, who knows?"