Val Kibler doesn’t like to have her picture taken. So that I was able to find 56 unique images from the last decade is actually kind of remarkable. But it’s really a testimony to how much Kibler has been out in front, leading the way in scholastic journalism for the last decade.

This January Kibler celebrates her 50th birthday.

Now, while some of her friends will, inevitably, be having fun in the mountains of Virginia, most of us won’t get the chance to personally say Happy Birthday this month.

But we can congratulate her.

Kibler, as Casey Nichols read when Kibler won the Journalism Education Association Medal of Merit in 2014, has taught English and advised journalism at Harrisonburg (Virginia) High School since 1998. Her students produce the national award-winning Newsstreak newspaper and website. In 2010, Kibler was named Dow Jones News Fund National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year and she received the Gold Key from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

“She has an undying dedication to improving scholastic journalism in every corner of the country,” wrote Chris Waugaman, MJE, of Prince George (Virginia) High School.

And Carol Lange, CJE, said, “Valerie sees the humor in situations, understands the changing presence of technology and is a role model for her students and young teacher-advisers.”

Not just me.

But it’s not just me that should be wishing Kibler happy birthday. There are a lot of people who have learned a lot and had a lot of fun — sometimes at Kibler’s expense or frustration.

Some of my favorites.

One of Val's students counts pennies in Kibler's classroom. Photo by Bradley Wilson

One of Val’s students counts pennies in Kibler’s classroom. Photo by Bradley Wilson

I was out at Harrisonburg High School teaching a little photo workshop which I did half a dozen or so times. If you haven’t been to the high school, you should visit. It’s huge. It’s across the street from a turkey farm. And Kibler’s room is home base. Not only home base for the newspaper staff, home base for, well, everyone in the school.

This particular day, the student government or some group was having a penny war. Every five minutes, someone would knock on the door — which I tried to shut — would come in and would drop a handful of pennies in a jar. So much for trying to get any teaching done.

On another trip to Harrisburg High School — in 2013, before the VAJTA Spring jDay — there was the tornado drill. It’s amazing teachers ever get to teach.

Justin Miller was the Bromander-in-Chief at one of the Virginia Tech summer workshops.

Justin Miller was the Bromander-in-Chief at the 2010  summer workshop held at Virginia Tech.

Then there was our year, 2010, at the summer VAJTA workshop at Virginia Tech. The students enjoyed chasing the skunks around campus — “Don’t catch the skunks,” we told them time after time. They played volleyball. But they had some fun too.

Led by Justin Miller — the Bromander-in-Chief. Miller was a quality journalist. Indeed, he’s now earned his master of science in publishing from New York University after graduating from William and Mary. But he also knew how to have fun. From rearranging dorm rooms to winning in camp games, he led a great group of folks. “JCamp makes me feel like I’m living in a teenage dream,” he said.

After the workshop, he posted on his Facebook page:

It’s an indescribable feeling to be around students who are so passionate about what they’re doing (whether photography, writing, design). They were all so young and in the middle of figuring out their lives. Where should I apply to school? What should I major in? How many years of a foreign language do I need? Though some of them have plans, which is impressive, each of them has no idea how truly their lives will be affected by college, and the people they meet. I honestly am still upset and teary eyed that it’s already over. Only four and a half days. And the majority of the time they were in class, and/or I was trying to make sure they were behaving. It’s a small amount of time to form such a powerful bond, but it did happen. I can do nothing but give thanks to God for sending me to jCamp, and allowing me to meet who I did; allowing me to come into their lives–even if for a brief amount of time–to offer them advice about college; and most importantly, allowing them to come into my own life, too.

Some of those kids I will probably never see again, which is depressing, and I hope that in some way, no matter how small, I positively influenced them. But I managed to form bonds with certain kids that I know will grow into strong friendships. Seeing the ambition, the dream, the hope, and the desire in their eyes is enough to brighten my day. I’ve exchanged contact information with every last one of them, and I plead for consistent communication.

One of the last things the group of guys said to me was, “Justin, why’re you so nice? You’ve had to deal with all of our sh– and yet you bought us all these T-shirts and stuff, and you don’t rat us out when we’re pulling pranks, and stuff.” They all agreed and just stared at me. I replied, “Life is too short to be mean, and we should all cherish every last person we meet.” They were all quiet, and knowing I hit a serious note, I changed the topic. But I knew they all took what I said to heart.

Oh, and along the way, as they’ve done for years, they learned a lot of journalism.

Then there’s all the other people that have helped with Kibler and VAJTA workshops, people like Bobby Hawthorne, Sarah Nichols, Chris Waugaman, Kelly Furnas, Robin Sawyer, Lori Keekley, Mary Strickler, Sue Gill and Brad Jenkins. All leaders in scholastic journalism.

But there were also my college students — and college students from Virginia Tech and James Madison University — who got the opportunity to teach and to expand their skills thanks to Val. Tyler Dukes. Alex Sanchez. Matt Johnson. Kyle Ray O’Donnell. T.J. Maynes. Austin Coffey. Sean Cassidy. Many of these folks are still working in mass media in one form or another.

And there’s Steve Johnson. I’m just not sure where he fits in all this. But we had some good visits thanks to Val. And, as with all the others, the students sure learned a lot from him.

Val brought in some of the best to work with her students and other students in the area. She wanted to challenge her students as much as I — and others — wanted to challenge mine.

So, happy birthday Val. The entire scholastic journalism profession is stronger because of you.