DENTON — Andrea Lopez Burns, a first-grade teacher at Preston Elementary School, is Caroline County Public Schools’ 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.
The announcement was made Monday, April 23, at a reception at the Caroline County Public Library in Denton, held in honor of all six finalists and their families.
Burns will represent Caroline County in the Maryland Teacher of the Year competition. In turn, Maryland’s Teacher of the Year will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
In addition to competing for the state title, Burns and the other 23 school districts’ winners will take part in a range of events throughout the coming school year, and will meet regularly with State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon to advise her on policy and reform efforts.
Burns began her teaching career in schools in Georgia, where she earned her undergraduate degree, and Pennsylvania. In 2012, she earned her teaching certificate in Maryland. Since then, she has taught at Preston Elementary School while completing a master’s degree.
Burns is a member of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support Team, and founder of the Multicultural Committee.
Burns said she was inspired to form the committee to celebrate students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, a stark contrast to her own experience as an English language-learning student when she moved to the United States from Peru, where her parents had been missionaries until she was 5 years old.
“My kindergarten teacher told my parents to stop speaking our native language (Spanish) and assimilate,” Burns said.
Burns said about 10 percent of Preston Elementary School’s population are English language learners, or ELL students, and that percentage is expected to continue to rise.
“I want ELL students to embrace their culture,” Burns said, noting that while bilingual students are proven to have higher cognitive abilities, ELL students still are more likely to drop out of school.
She founded the Multicultural Committee to help those students feel more comfortable and encourage them to dream.
“Hopefully, they will be more apt to take academic risks,” Burns said.
Burns has hung posters around the school featuring conversational phrases in different languages. A poster outside her own classroom reads in both English and Spanish, “Being bilingual is a superpower.”
The Multicultural Committee will host its first assembly Friday, May 25, when classes will present what they learned about an assigned country. Students’ families are invited to attend, Burns said.
Burns also is the granddaughter of Cuban immigrants who moved to the United States when their son, her father, was a child.
“My grandparents had an eighth- and sixth-grade education between them (when they immigrated),” Burns said. “Education is so important to being able to live the American dream.”
Burns was nominated by Aimee Larson, a former student’s parent who still volunteers in Burns’ class.
This was the second year Burns was nominated; she said she chose not to undergo the extensive interview and essay-writing process after her first nomination.
After she was announced the 2018-19 Teacher of the Year, Burns thanked her school’s administrators, Principal Dr. Kari Clow and Assistant Principal Rich Petroske, for their leadership and encouragement, and her family, including her husband, Nate Burns, and parents, Oscar and Pamela Lopez, for their support.
Finally, she thanked the committee that chose her.
“You’ve allowed this little Latina with broken English from the jungles of Peru to dream big, and that message will be priceless to the little ones with broken English who follow me,” Burns said.
Burns’s fellow finalists were Katie Birmingham, transition center specialist at the Caroline Career and Technology Center; Laura Eser, Academy of Health Professions teacher at the Caroline Career and Technology Center; Rob Honer, sixth-grade science teacher at Colonel Richardson Middle School; Deanne Waters, fourth-grade teacher at Greensboro Elementary School; and Keli Worm, third-grade teacher at Preston Elementary School.
This year’s judging committee comprised four former Caroline County teachers of the year — Lindsay McCormick, Melissa McFayden, Cheri Nier and Marcia Porter — and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan McCandless.