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Melissa Porfirio, a first-grade teacher in Fairfax County, was named the 2014 Virginia Teacher of the Year last Friday. For Porfirio, though, the highlight came months before, when a parent nominated her for Fairfax County Teacher of the Year, which started her on the path to the state award.

“For me, being nominated by a parent, a parent of a student who has learning challenges, that makes the award,” Porfirio said. “This mom and I worked together to help her son have the best year that he could. And the fact that she recognized that, that she saw that in me … Out of all these interviews and everything, that’s what I’m taking away from the process.”

That illuminates what makes Porfirio stand out to members of her school community. Porfirio, who has taught at Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield since 2005, is known for her efforts to get to know her students both inside and outside the classroom.

Referring to her students as her “friends,” she fills her calendar with students’ after-school activities, from swim meets to soccer games and more. And she tries to bring her students’ interests and strengths back into her classroom.

One weekend, Porfirio attended a ballet recital of a student with significant special needs. At the recital, she watched as the student went through every choreographed step in time to the music. Seeing this, Porfirio started working movement and music into her lessons to help the student succeed.

“I want them to know I care about them as people,” Porfirio said. “Yes, you’re a student. Yes, your job is to come to school and learn. But you’re a person. You’re significant, you’re noticed, you’re welcomed here.”

During her interview process for state teacher of the year, Porfirio boiled down her philosophy: “We don’t teach standards. We teach children.”

Porfirio was one of eight teachers from across the state in contention for the honor, which was announced at a ceremony in Richmond by state superintendent for public instruction Patricia I. Wright.

“Melissa will be a great ambassador for Virginia’s public schools and for the teaching profession,” Wright said.

Porfirio, who graduated from Catholic University with a degree in social work and received a master’s degree in education from George Mason University, won the 2013 Teacher of the Year award for Fairfax County public schools in May. From there, she went on to win the regional award in September, and then went through the interview process at the state level.

Now she is up for 2014 National Teacher of the Year honors; the winner will be announced at the White House next spring. Porfirio is the first state teacher of the year from Fairfax County since 1998, and that teacher, Philip Bigler of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, went on to win the National Teacher of the Year Award.