Bridging the gap: Mathews County music teacher finds ways to help students

MATTHEWS COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) –A special teacher in Mathews County has gone out of his way to bridge the gap between teachers and students.

He has taken it a step further by bringing his community together as well.

Patrick Billups is a father, teacher, and pastor — and overall, a man of his community. He has worked at the elementary school in Mathews County for eight years, and he works hard to be a great influence inside and outside the classroom.

 “To be able to come back and pour into the students here has been great,” he said.

And the way Mr. Billups, AKA Teacher of the Year, pours into his students is through music.

“Music makes you feel more than just thought, in a way. So it kind of impacts the entire student,” he said.

In Billups’ classroom, students experience music from ukulele to recorder, to xylophone, and of course, the piano, but his teaching method supersedes reading music.

Billups always brings his focus back to making sure every student is successful, especially those who struggled once school went virtual and were not able to access the typical school resources.

That’s why Billups handles the SPIRE program. It’s a program used to help students virtually who are falling behind in their reading. 

“We had to figure out how we were going to take this program that the students needed to have [what] was designed to be in-person and make it an online experience… Though, I’m a music teacher, so the whole reading aspect of it was not something that I was, like, jumping and enthusiastic about,” he said.

But he took the time to build the site each student used and contributed to the technological support, giving each child the opportunity to be successful.

“We’ve seen confidence increase. We’ve seen them grow to love it. And through the site, they were able to be reached at home,” he said.

And if serving his kids through music and online reading wasn’t enough, he also has been serving his community through his church.

“One of the things that we realized was that our community is not just those in need, but it’s also businesses. It’s also people that you just see day to day, that may not ask for help, but could use some help that kind of thing,” he said.

“We came up with this thing called ‘day of change.’ And so, they have changed was where we took like, change, whether it was in person, it would be like people would drop change into like a water jar, and however much was in the water jar, we would turn on the gas cards,” he added.

Coins were collected in buckets, and he even found a way to make it work during a time where COVID-19 left so many in the county without a job or income.

“We were able to turn that in-person change jar into an online change jar. So, people were still able to drop change. It looked a little different during COVID. But we were able to still bless people, drive up, and pull up to them and say, hey, we just want to be a blessing to you today,” he explained.

So, if you ask Billups who he is, “Mr. Billups” may not sum it up enough.

He is a teacher, pastor, father and leader with a passion for creating equity in his community.

Billups’ journey will be ending soon, but his goal for leadership community and embracing diversity will continue in a big way. He will be making an announcement on his future in the coming weeks.

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