MNPS Voices: Vanessa Thomas

MNPS Voices: Vanessa Thomas, Literacy Coach, Thomas Edison Elementary
Posted on 05/04/2022
portrait of vanessa thomas in school library

Dr. Vanessa L. Thomas, a literacy coach at Thomas Edison Elementary School, believes “sowing the seeds” of extracurricular cultural exposure is transformative in students’ lives. 

Thomas, a graduate of the district, returned to MNPS in 2010 as a third-grade teacher at Robert Churchwell Elementary. That is where she saw the power of influence in the role of teaching. She was heavily focused on her students’ social and emotional support and she had to find ways to bring their guard down.

Vanessa Thomas portrait in school library

“Every day I would show and tell them how much I loved them and remind them I am here for them,” Thomas said. “It was important for me to tell them their story could be different sometimes by just providing an encouraging word.”

This is when Thomas knew she was working in her purpose, because she could see her students feed off her energy and could change their trajectory in just one day. She readily admits it was scary but confirming to see the power and impact that teachers have on their students.

Thomas, a self-proclaimed “MNPS kid,” remembers the influence and impact her teachers had on her life throughout her elementary education. She also recalls how her exposure to extracurricular activities helped her to become her best self.

That’s how Thomas came up with her unique philosophy: Exposure to Extracurricular Activities Saves Lives.

“I believe extracurricular activities keep students busy and allow them to work both sides of their brain,” she said. “This includes everything and anything, like sports, arts and events.”

Thomas made it her personal goal to take every child in her school to see a play every year. She met her goal through grant writing for funds to cover the full cost, including transportation, food and the price of admission. She took the entire school to see a play at Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

“I was hoping students would be inspired at every level, including behind the scenes and not just as an actor,” Thomas said. “I want to inspire my students to become writers and directors.”

Thomas recognizes that students need exposure to a variety of experiences, including beyond Davidson County. She has taken her students on day trips to Huntsville, Ala., to visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

“Dr. Thomas is an asset to the Edison community,” says Dr. Sonya Whitmore, the Antioch school’s principal. “Her love for students and teachers is apparent in all she does. No job is too small or big for her. Her ultimate goal is for Edison to be the best place to learn, work and grow.”

It is easy to understand Thomas’s passion when you hear her talk about the power of exposure in her own life.

Thomas, a student athlete and eighth-grade valedictorian, graduated from Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School. She and her younger sister were raised by their father. He taught them to serve their community and live by the philosophy: If you can do it, you should do it. Don’t be selfish with your gifts.

That strong philosophy, coupled with some impressive educators, helped Thomas become who she is today.

“Ewing Park Middle School was a game changer - they created opportunities for us to be great and be seen,” she said. “Coach Startup, Mrs. Parrish, Mrs. Dismukes, Mrs. Shelton and Mrs. Phillips took us to academic conferences and on field trips. They pushed us to be our best selves.”

Thomas, a diehard sports fanatic, enjoys a break when she can get one. Her down-time joy is self-care and pampering. She loves a good spa day, especially if she can enjoy it along with her sister and best friend.

Her career goals are to continue moving upward with MNPS. She has her sights set on an administrative role while remaining hands-on with students.

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