BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Being an elementary school teacher wasn't on Donte Montague's radar when he graduated from Bridgewater College. Teaching fourth graders, however, has turned out to be the perfect fit for the former Eagles' student-athlete.
Montague was a strong performer for the track & field team during his time at Bridgewater. A consistent scorer for the Eagles in the jumping events, Montague graduated from Bridgewater in 2009 with a degree in health and exercise science.
"Donte was a very good performer for us," said long-time Bridgewater track and field coach Shane Stevens. "He was a hard worker, showed up for practice when he was supposed to and always gave you a strong effort. He's a guy you could count on."
After graduation, it took some time for Montague to find his calling in the professional world.
"I wanted to be a college coach," Montague said. "When that didn't happen for me, I had to find a job."
Montague landed a job at the Wal-Mart distribution center. "I knew that's not what I wanted to be doing, but they were good to me"
While working at the distribution center, he was also able to work as a substitute teacher during the week. He landed a position coaching track & field and cross country at Stuarts Draft High School and soon realized that teaching just might be a path to follow.
Montague went through the MAT program at Mary Baldwin and received his elementary education licensure. He did his student-teaching at A.W. Ware Elementary School in Staunton and he's been in the same classroom ever since, teaching fourth-graders at the school.
Not only did Montague find his passion, he's apparently very good at what he does.
"Donte is just an amazing teacher and person," said Ware principal Dr. Susan Barker. "He is just so natural at developing and fostering relationships with his students and parents. You can't teach that interpersonal part. You could tell early on, even during his student teaching, that he had a knack for connecting with the students. It's just such a big part of who he is."
In 2017, Montague was named the Teacher of the Year in the Staunton City School system.
In November of 2018, Montague was one of 10 recipients of the prestigious Dawbarn Education Award recognizing outstanding educators in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County schools.
In 1992, H. Dunlop "Buz" Dawbarn. established a fund at the Community Foundation to improve education in his local community by providing cash awards to individuals who have most successfully inspired, encouraged, and fostered learning in young people below the college level. Dawbarn had a particular interest in public school education. The honor includes a $10,000 cash award for each honoree.
"The recognition is humbling," said Montague. "There are so many great teachers in this City and in the area. There are definitely many who deserve this type recognition. Personally, I like to stay in the background. I don't do this for the personal recognition, I do this for the students. I'm certainly honored by the award and it motivates me to continue doing my best for the students."
Montague enjoys teaching at the fourth-grade level. "The kids are at an age where you can really see their growth in the classroom," said Montague. "You can see them blossom. I feel proudful, knowing that I may have a had a small part in their growth as a student and as a young person."
Montague admits that he does miss coaching, but he's found a way to scratch that itch at the elementary school.
"I have a degree in health and exercise science and I wanted to use that degree so I started a fitness club for fourth and fifth-graders. We do it for eight weeks. We work on cardio, strength, flexibility, meditation. We do it with positive reinforcement and goal setting and the students really enjoy it."
Montague has a group of eight or nine kids who he takes to running events throughout the area and they participate in mile runs as well as 5K runs. "My goal is to make it a fun environment. That's my goal. I want those kids to learn to enjoy running at a young age."
Looking back on his time at Bridgewater College, Montague credits two people with his development as a student-athlete.
"Lori Gano-Overway was my advisor and she really stayed on me about my academics. She was an excellent advisor. In track, I was a jumper and I spent a lot of time with Coach (Stephon) Healey. He was a mentor. He taught me so much about the strength and conditioning aspect of college athletics. Those two helped me stay on track."
"Donte was always a very conscientious young man," said Healey. "He's carried that over into his professional career. We've tried to stay in touch and seems to be doing very well in his career. The best thing I can say about Donte is he genuinely cares about people."
Later, Healey exposed Montague to a different world. "When Coach Healey left Bridgewater to go to Gallaudet, I went up to visit and I saw all these people doing sign language. I had no idea Gallaudet was a college for the deaf. When I got back to Staunton I started to study signing. I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent fluent in sign language but I'm getting there."
And, guess what else Montague did with his new-found passion.
He started a sign language club at Ware Elementary. Once again, doing his part to make sure students have different opportunities to get the most out of their educational experience.
"Donte really cares about the students. It's not out of the ordinary for Donte to show up and watch a basketball game or another activity that involves his students," Barker added. "And, it's not just the students in his classroom, it's all the students. He's already got those kindergarteners eating out of his hand. They'll be wanting to be in Mr. Montague's class in a few years.
"I just can't say enough about Donte. He's an awesome teacher," Barker said. "He just gets it."