Regina Suggs Kelley ‘02, P’24 Continues the Suggs Family Legacy
Patience is a virtue; and it was one of the big lessons that Regina Suggs Kelley '02, P'24 learned at Govs. “You can’t rush people,” she says. This was particularly true when she was a peer volunteer at The Governor’s Academy’s Multicultural Orientation, helping new international students acclimate to campus at their own speed. And patience is something that Regina now practices with her own students as a teacher at Oakstone Academy in Florida.
“Oakstone is an immersion program, with about half of students on the autism spectrum and the other half being gifted and neurotypical,” Regina says. “With a classroom of students working at different speeds, it is important to have patience with those who work slower or do not understand the content. I also urge my faster-working children to be patient with their classmates.”
Regina studied sociology and Spanish at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and later worked at a program for children with developmental delays. About that same time, her son, who is on the autism spectrum, was struggling at school. After he transferred to Oakstone Academy, Regina saw a complete turnaround.
“He went from hating school to loving school within the first week,” she recalls. “I said to myself, ‘I have to work here because the things they do are amazing.’”
Regina became a teacher at Oakstone, working primarily with eighth-grade students. She says that having students learn together in the same classroom—irrespective of their abilities or skills— teaches both academic and social skills. “They all learn how to accept differences.”
Accepting differences and advocating for inclusivity, particularly for students of color, is something that Regina did at Govs. “At times it was hard being a minority at Govs,” she says. She gave and sought support through her involvement with PRIDE (People Really Into Diversity Education), which at the time was a multicultural organization at the Academy, advised by Regina’s father, Isaiah (Ike) Suggs Jr. '78, P'97, '02. The Govs group would often visit multicultural groups at neighboring schools for dances and other events.
“Visiting other schools helped us realize that we were all experiencing similar feelings,” says Regina, who served as PRIDE co-president during senior year. “We shared ideas to help ease situations that could potentially come up.”
Regina was following in the footsteps of her family, whose home at Govs was a welcoming space for students of color. Her father, Ike, worked as an admissions officer, dorm parent, and coach. Her mom, Dorothea, worked in the Academy’s Advancement Office and also served as a dorm parent with her husband. Her older sister, Nicole Plante ‘97, attended Govs, too. The whole family served as a resource and support system for students of color at that time.
“My father now has a lot of 'adopted children' he still keeps in touch with,” Regina affectionately shares. “While we lived at Govs, our door was always open. Kids could come in just to say hi or watch their favorite TV show. That’s just how I grew up.”
A Fun Day With Miss Gina
When asked about impactful people at Govs, Regina at first says, “My favorites know who they are.” A minute later: “OK, I am going to name one: my English teacher, Mrs. [Maud] Hamovit. She was always there for me and my sister.”
Maud Hamovit was also Regina’s lacrosse coach. And, she had a way of “just knowing if something was wrong by the look on your face. Even before we knew.” Regina seems to have that same gift, even when she was a student. As JV basketball co-captain during senior year (she left the varsity team due to a knee injury), Regina could tell when something was bothering one of her teammates — on or off the court. “If someone was discouraged, I would start joking or dancing around, throwing out random songs during practice. To this day, I love to joke around.”
Maybe that’s why her students at Oakstone often tell their parents about “a fun day with Miss Gina.” It’s something that comes naturally for Regina, who is humble when asked about it. “It’s not often that I sit and reflect on the impact I have on my students. Students have a goal, and I have to help them get there.”
But reaching that goal is not always easy, and Regina puts on her intuitive “Mrs. Hamovit” hat to make sure students stay on track. “With some kids, you can just see it in their face or by behavioral changes when something is off or bothering them. We have a keen eye for that.”
It makes celebrating successes all the more rewarding. One student who hit a milestone happened to be a fan of the Miami Heat NBA team. Regina worked with Govs staff members to ask Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson ‘12 to congratulate the student for his hard work.
“Duncan was immediately on board; I set up a one-on-one Zoom call and Duncan was amazing. Then I said to him, ‘I have a couple of other kids who want to say hi to you’ and let the rest of the school on the meeting,” she recalls, laughing. When fellow teachers asked her if it was “weird” to be texting an NBA player, she responded, “Nah, he went to my high school!”
Now, Regina’s daughter is a student at Govs, likely getting her own lessons in patience and finding her “favorites.” Regina’s humor comes out again when she considers her family’s 30-plus year Govs legacy. “Just when they thought we were done, we send them some more.”