The three teachers of the year at East Wake Academy have several things in common – they’re fun, relaxed and it’s clear that their students and the subjects they teach are their core passions.
Laura Berube was named teacher of the year for the East Wake Academy High School, Jodi Pearson represents East Wake Academy Middle School and Jennifer Hinton was recognized as both teacher of the year for the elementary school and for the entire charter school.
Teachers of the year are voted on by their peers. Berube, Pearson and Hinton also underwent an interview process with the administration, after which Hinton was chosen to represent the school against other charter schools statewide.
“All three are not only great teachers but good people,” said EWA Superintendent Stephen Gay. “Teaching is their passion and that’s what makes them stand out.”
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Jennifer Hinton, 40, has spent more than half of her 13 years in education at EWA and was named teacher of the year at her previous school. She currently teaches first grade, but has previously bounced between third and fourth grades.
Pillows and bean bags decorate her classroom for reading time. Hinton is always moving. She refuses to have a desk, instead walking around the room, helping her students with worksheets, teaching from the slide projector and interacting with students individually and as a class.
She says former students have told her that they’re comfortable learning in the relaxed learning environment she promotes.
“I am a strong advocate for students, specifically students who have some sort of form of reading dyslexia,” Hinton said.
She brought two programs to the school, including a beginning phonics program and special tutoring to assist dyslexic students.
“If I know we need something better, I act on it,” she said. “I work better with a team. I may have the initial idea but we all work together.”
Gay calls her a “reflective practitioner.” Hinton considers everything she does and constantly improves, he said.
One way she said that she aids her classroom is by observing a teaching method that is geared toward “multiple intelligences,” where a teacher provides experiences for all learning methods – whether that be through music, tutoring, group dynamics or others.
Laura Berube, 46, has taught earth environmental science at EWA High for four years. During her 12-year career, Berube has received teacher of the year at another high school and is currently pursuing a Master’s in administration.
This is her third year teaching advanced placement environmental science, which she helped to bring to the academy. She also advises the environmental club.
She is “enthusiastic” about her subject and often allows the outdoors to be her classroom. Much of her spare time is spent outdoors too, camping and hiking.
“These are our future decision-makers,” Berube said of her students. She encourages them speak up in class about current events.
“They see fracking, global climate change in the news. They will take leadership in those roles later, and we need to support them as they become good decision-makers,” she said.
Jodi Pearson, 30, has been at EWA Middle for five of her six years teaching math.
“I just love sixth grade because sixth graders still need you a little bit,” Pearson said. “It’s a fun age, and they’re still willing to try so many things.”
Like Hinton, Pearson never stops moving. At home, she cares for 19-month-old twins and is expecting her third child soon.
At school, Pearson pioneered the “flipped classroom” at the school more than three years ago. Students watch a 5-10-minute video of her lecturing for homework and spend classroom time with hands-on activities.
For her students, math is fun. Instead of worksheets and textbooks, they go on scavenger hunts, play tic-tac-toe and do other activities.
“I’m so passionate about the subject,” she said. “There’s nothing better than a kid coming in hating math and leaving loving it.”
The teachers were named in July, and their principals speak highly of them.
“All three teachers are teachers that you’d want your kids to have,” Gay said. “And that’s the highest praise a teacher can get.”