It was Friday morning, shortly after the start of another day at Sunset Elementary School, when Craig Daily Press Publisher Bryce Jacobson marched into Cheryl Arnett’s second-grade classroom. Jacobson, accompanied by a phalanx of Moffat County educators and community members, extended a bouquet of balloons toward Arnett.
Arnett’s students were huddled cross-legged on the floor in the midst of a lesson. One of them spoke.
“Is it your birthday?” the student asked Arnett.
Jacobson clarified the cause for the hoopla.
“We’d like to present Mrs. Arnett with the 2010-2011 Craig Daily Press Teacher of the Year award,” he said.
Amid a sudden round of applause, a teary-eyed Arnett accepted the balloons and the sixth annual award — a crystal trophy in the shape of an apple.
Each year, the Craig Daily Press seeks nominations for Teacher of the Year. According to the nomination form, nominees should be teachers “who go above and beyond … and encourage their students to think outside the box.”
This year, the Daily Press received 100 nominations for 33 area teachers. Of those nominees, the newspaper’s Editorial Board selected Arnett.
Arnett, 58, was born in Oregon and raised in northern California. She moved to Craig in 1975.
After arriving to town, Arnett worked first as a banker, and then as a teacher’s aide at Sunset.
While serving as a teacher’s aide, Arnett earned a teaching degree through Regis University. She completed her courses in 1993, was soon hired to teach at Sunset, and has occupied the same classroom ever since.
Arnett teaches first- and second-graders in a “loop” pattern. Every two years, Arnett receives a new batch of first-graders. Arnett leads those students through their first-grade year, then receives the same students the next year as second-graders.
Friday marked the first occasion Arnett has received an award of this kind, but her teaching has been recognized on a national and global scale.
For two years running, Arnett has been selected to attend Microsoft’s U.S. Innovative Education Forum — a handpicked annual gathering of educators from around the country. Last year, Arnett attended the forum in Washington, D.C. This year, Arnett, along with two other Sunset teachers, will attend the forum in Redmond, Wash.
After last year’s forum in D.C., Arnett was chosen by Microsoft to represent the United States at the 2010 Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.
This year in Redmond, Arnett will vie for another chance to attend the international forum. She will present her classroom project “Making Learning Real — Giving Kids a Voice.”
The project is a series of smaller subprojects that combined student research, writing and dissemination through computer programs and websites.
Second-grader Lauren Kirby, said Arnett deserves the award.
“She’s a great teacher,” she said.
Kirby said one of her favorite projects in Arnett’s class was researching the plight of Bornean orangutans. The class learned that the primates’ habitat is threatened by harvesting palm oil in Borneo.
Craig resident Amber Beaver cited the same project when she nominated Arnett for the award.
“Palm oil is used in many snack foods. Orangutans are going extinct because of this,” Beaver wrote on the nomination form. “(The students) wrote a song and a digital story that is online to raise awareness. They have talked to the cafeteria at school.”
As a result the cafeteria no longer serves food containing palm oil.
Sunset kindergarten teacher Amy Jones also submitted a nomination for Arnett. Jones said Arnett is a mentor.
“She has really challenged and inspired me to incorporate 21st-century skills into my classroom,” Jones said Friday. “And, she has really walked the walk this year in proving that teaching in an innovative and project-based manner is very engaging … and inspiring.”
Marlene Knez, district technology director, said Arnett’s use of technology in the classroom is also effective.
“You can see the power of project-based learning using technology as a tool to meet goals and engage and motivate students,” Knez said. “She’s taken her teaching to another level this year and last year.”
Sunset Principal Zack Allen said Arnett’s teaching broadens the scope of what elementary students can learn in a classroom setting.
“Her kiddos are learning a lot more than just arithmetic, reading and writing,” Allen said. “They’re learning about being empowered as learners and as citizens.”
And, Allen said Arnett’s approach to learning extends beyond her students.
“She doesn’t just see her students as students,” he said. “I think she sees all of us as students and she sees herself as a student. She’s always learning independently and on her own time. And, she’s very willing and able to share with others.
“We all benefit — not just her students — we all benefit from having her in our building.”
After receiving her award, Arnett gathered her students into a circle and let them pass the crystal apple from one hand to another.
“Boys and girls, this is something very special,” Arnett said of the award. “And, it’s about you guys and all the hard work you’ve done in the last two years.
“So, thank you for being such a great class.”
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