Wadsworth Elementary Teacher of the Year Susan Bryant finds herself amazed by her students' resilience.
"It is more critical now than ever before to address the mental health needs of our students."
— SUSAN BRYANT, Wadsworth Elementary School Teacher of the Year
"I hear my students' stories of parent drug addiction, having a parent in jail, or living with grandparents and having no contact with parents at all," she wrote in an essay for her Teacher of the Year application materials. "To have students sitting in my classroom, having shared their experiences with me, and still smile, laugh, achieve, and excel. That is what continues to inspire me."
Bryant had her own struggles as a girl.
"Coming from a less than perfect childhood allows me to better relate and empathize with students who have experienced similar issues within their own home," she wrote. "... I often share some of the experiences of my own life."
Bryant teaches the fourth-grade Dreams Program class at Wadsworth. It was designed to teach gifted students and students who were above grade level in reading or math, but now includes students with a broader range of skill levels, including some who are a year or two behind grade level.
She visits students in the lower-level Dreams classes, and tells them how excited she is to have them in her future classes. At recesses, she plays basketball or kickball with students to promote positive interactions, and encourages other classes to compete with hers on projects.
Bryant has been teaching in the Dreams program since the second year of its implementation, and has taught at Wadsworth since 2015, after teaching pre-kinterdarten in New York since 2005.
This past year, 75% of her class reached stretch growth goals in math, and all students received levels 4 or level 5 scores on the Florida State Assessment math test — including students who'd started at a first-grade or second-grade level.
She likes to let students take the initiative during whole-group instruction, and asks a lot of "how" and "why" questions about why an answer is correct. In math lessons, students come up with their own word problems about the skills they're learning.
She's also been on the Literacy Committee for three years, helping plan events like Dr. Seuss Night and Read Across America, and emphasizes STEM skills in the classroom, finding STEM challenges for students.
But to reach students, she wrote, it's important to advocate for more than their academic needs.
"It is more critical now than ever before to address the mental health needs of our students," she wrote. "We cannot change the curriculum we are given, we cannot change the high-stakes tests, we cannot change the prior experiences our student walk into the building with, but we can change or they go from here."