For some teachers, their roots in Vestavia Hills run deeper than their current classroom. Take Nancy Peake Portera, for example. She’s taught for 12 years in the system, and for 28 1/2 years total. But before that she attended Vestavia Hills schools herself. “So many of my teachers made a lasting impression on me, and I feel blessed to also be able to impact children in Vestavia,” says the Liberty Park Elementary teacher.

There’s something special about choosing the same community where you grew up to now work as an adult. But what is it like often walking the same halls or playing on the same fields? We asked a few people who know.

Ryan Vincent

Liberty Park Middle Sixth Grade English Teacher
1999 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 3



Favorite memory as student: How welcoming all the teachers were. I had just moved to Vestavia and was a senior at VHHS. The teachers and principal made me feel like I had been there the whole time.

Favorite memories as teacher: All the great pep rally days and seeing all the teachers and students dressing up to show their school spirit. There is no way to describe the feeling of that kind of unified spirit.

Best part of being back: I know teachers say this all the time, but I get to give back to a community that gave me so much. To be able to tell my students that I graduated from Vestavia fills me
with pride. 

Joy Jonas

Central Fourth Grade Teacher
1999 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 1 (This is her first year. She served as a para teacher for three years previously.)

Favorite memory as student: Dancing at the high school football and basketball games as a Rebelette, and watching our football team win state my senior year.

Favorite memories as teacher: All the amazing students I have grown to know and love.

Best part of being back: Knowing and loving generations of families here. It is such an honor to have been raised here and now to be able to raise my own children here. The love, support and opportunities in this community are truly special.

Nancy Peake Portera

Liberty Park Elementary Fifth Grade Teacher
1984 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 28 1/2

Favorite memory as student: Working on homecoming floats each year. It was so much fun coming together as a class and working towards a common goal.

Favorite memories as teacher: Each year fifth grade goes to camp in the fall. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to grow closer as a class and learn so much about each other. I learn so much about my class that I can’t in a classroom.

Best part of being back: Since I live in Vestavia as well, I love watching my former students grow up and running into them throughout their school years and see all of their awesome accomplishments.

Laura Hale Grote

West Second Grade Teacher
2002 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 11

Favorite memory as student: At VHHS, I was very lucky to have a great group of friends. We all attended Bible studies together through Stampede and Young Life, and we still enjoy those friendships today. 

Favorite memories as teacher: Currently, my entire extended family lives in Vestavia, within about a 5-mile radius of each other. I really enjoyed getting to see my nieces and nephews as they came through West as students. They would visit my room each morning to say hello and maybe sneak a piece of candy. My brother-in-law, Jamie Harris, is the head VHHS baseball coach, and we all turn out frequently to watch the Rebels play. 

Best part of being back: At the first of school, it is always exciting to see my class roll for the first time. I love seeing the names of the children of families that I have grown up with in Vestavia. I like to provide the special atmosphere as their teacher, just as my teachers did for me.

Sarah Kaiser

VHHS Algebra Teacher
2012 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 2

Favorite memory as student: I loved the school spirit while growing up in the Vestavia school system. From elementary school through high school pep-rallies, school spirit could be seen in every aspect of the schools.

Favorite memories as teacher: As a school teacher, I think it is incredible to see how much passion all the teachers have for their jobs. Everyone works together to make sure each student is the best that they can be.

Best part of being back: I think it is an incredible blessing to be able to carry on the legacy of excellence that the Vestavia school system has. I love being able to wake up every day and work with the students in this amazing system.

Allie Boyd

East Kindergarten Teacher
2007 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 5

Favorite memory as student: Cheering at high school football games. 

Favorite memories as teacher: I have loved watching my classes enjoy East’s Fall Carnival and May Day Play Day. These are some of the same special things I enjoyed as a child at East, and it is neat to watch my students make these memories while remembering my own. 

Best part of being back: It really felt like coming home when I started teaching at East. I love that I am teaching alongside people that knew me as a child, teachers who taught me, and even others that graduated from Vestavia. We truly have a family here. 

Natalie Moss Anderson

VHE Cahaba Heights Third Grade Teacher
1990 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 20

Favorite memory as student: I loved Pirate Day at Pizitz and have fond memories of watching “air bands” perform. My best memories were in Ellen Fullington’s home economics class—she was just the best! I also loved graduating from VHHS on the football field. I know they don’t do that anymore, and I am glad I will not have to sit outside in the heat in a few years to watch my daughter, Lily, graduate. But there was something pretty special about that. 

Best part of being back:. It’s also really neat to see how education has evolved. My girls (10th grade and third grade) use technology every day at school. They are really better at it than me! I love how our schools are meeting the needs of every type of learner. I know at my school many classrooms have flexible seating. If a child needs to stand up during a lesson, then he stands up. If someone prefers to sit on a fitness ball, then they do. I love going to Parent Night at VHHS and walking Lily’s schedule! It’s very strange, but as much as the high school has grown, I can still remember the halls so well. It’s special that my daughter walks the same halls I walked all those years ago. My favorite part right now is having my youngest daughter in third grade with me. She has one of my best friends, Juleigh Green, as her teacher, which is just a dream.

Susan Bell Castleberry

Pizitz Sixth Grade Gifted Science Teacher
1983 VHHS Graduate
Years teaching: 26

Favorite memory as student: Pirates’ Day, pep rallies, singing in the choir and playing in the band.

Favorite memories as teacher: Teaching at Pizitz with my mother, Lou Bell, from 1996-2001, and having my children John and Paige with me while they attended Pizitz. I have also loved chaperoning choir trips.

Best part of being back: I am very sentimental, with a long memory. I enjoy reflecting on my favorite middle school teachers, friends and school traditions.