New Loudoun County High School teacher Melanie Vahsen doesn't look much older than the students in her math classroom. Just five years ago she was in the same seats.
Now the Class of 2008 valedictorian is back at her alma mater as a math teacher.
When she graduated, Vahsen didn't plan to pursue teaching, much less return to her high school, but she says it always felt like home.
"I really loved going to school here. I moved around so much as a kid with a dad in the Navy," said Vahsen. "This was the first school I'd been at for four years, so it kind of felt like home."
Vahsen, known as "Mel" to everyone at Loudoun County High, went on to graduate from the University of Virginia with a math degree and a master's in education. Then, as she was job hunting, she found out her math mentor might be retiring.
"I heard through the grapevine Martha Blakeney was retiring," she said. "I thought, This is my chance."
Coincidentally, Vahsen was such a gifted calculus student in high school, students used to call her "mini-Blakeney."
She wasn't the only one who saw an opportunity when the job opened. Her former principal, Bill Oblas, quickly hired his former valedictorian.
"I think we hit the jackpot when we got Mel on the staff," said Oblas. "She's going to do a great job. Students are going to love her, the faculty already knows her and are all excited to have her with them."
One of her former math teachers, now the department chair, agrees.
"Quite frankly, I remember her being smarter than I was, so when she emailed me to say, 'I want to come back and teach,' I was thrilled because she's great," recalled Nikki Kezmarsky.
Vahsen is one of nine Loudoun County High School grads who have been hired to teach at schools in the district this year. Across the county, 61 of 500 new teachers are homegrown.
But as much as she's been welcomed back, Vahsen has one problem -- addressing her former teachers, like Kezmarsky, as colleagues.
"We always used to call her Miss K," said Vahsen. "So I have a big, huge problem calling her Nikki. I stumble every time I say it."