Fifteen educators have been named semifinalists for the 2021 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. These semifinalists will be among 46 teachers to be honored at the 35th Annual Excellence in Education Awards on April 15. Meet the semifinalists at Severna Park and Arnold schools.
Folger McKinsey Elementary School
Sara Wagner has been a special education teacher at Folger McKinsey Elementary School for six years. She has a bachelor’s degree from Niagara University in elementary and special education, and a master’s from Johns Hopkins with a focus in autism and severe disabilities. In 2004, she began her career in Calvert County, teaching a self-contained autism program. Once her children were entering school, the Arnold resident wanted to shorten her commute.
“I randomly applied and got a phone call from Folger McKinsey, and just fell in love with just the feel of the building,” Wagner said. “They offered me the job, I took a chance, and it was the best move I've made for my career.”
Though she originally studied general education at the elementary level, Wagner always had a feeling she would work in special education.
“I can remember the special educator in our school, holding the hand of a student with Down syndrome and walking the halls to the next class or to the speech room, or to the occupational therapy room,” recalled Wagner. “I just remember being so curious about it. I just wanted to know more about people with disabilities, and I wanted to know more about how they were learning differently than what we were learning, which is a pretty weird thought for like a third- and fourth-grader. That's just what I was curious about.”
She changed her major after joining a sorority that supported the Special Olympics, and she never looked back.
Wagner said that the administration and staff at Folger McKinsey have worked hard to build an inclusive environment for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs.) Wagner and the other special educator, Allison Lowe, have become a resource for other teachers who have students with IEPs.
“It's cool to be seen as a resource; you feel valued by your school, your community,” Wagner said. “To be teaching for this many years, and still look forward to going to work every day is a pretty cool thing.”
She hopes to continue to promote inclusivity and encouraging her coworkers to look beyond “the first identifier.”
“You see that I have a student with Down syndrome,” she explained. “OK, but what else? Let's look deeper into the students and tell me, what else do you see? Did you know that she's an above-grade-level reader? She's a great friend. She's creative. She loves to learn. So, just getting people to see more than what that first thing is that they notice.”
Wagner was honored to have been nominated for Teacher of the Year, especially because she is inspired by everyone she works with.
“I've been teaching for so long, I think I have quite a bag of tricks,” said Wagner. “But I learn new things from teachers every year. It could be well-seasoned teachers, or brand-new teachers; they just have so much to offer. And I just think it's so cool that I get to work with these people every day.”
Magothy River Middle School
Lauren Ebersberger’s experience at Severna Park Middle School inspired her to become an educator. Now a middle school science teacher at Magothy River Middle School, she strives to inspire her students in the same ways she was. Although she has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Salisbury University, Ebersberger never taught elementary.
“I went right into sixth grade,” said Ebersberger. “Someone said, ‘You'll be fine. It's like fifth grade, but a little higher.’ And so I went to sixth grade and I never left.”
Ebersberger, who started teaching at Magothy River in 2015, said that while many people consider middle school to be a challenging time, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She has found that her students are excited to learn and enjoy the hands-on aspects of science.
“I like the sixth grade because I can build these relationships where we have great conversations, we can joke around,” she said. “They get my sense of humor, which I have a lot of in the classroom. And then at the end of the day, I know that they learn something from me whether it's, you know, how to deal with life or something about science. It's just, I can't describe. They're young, but they're also in this age where I can see their progress over the years.”
Ebersberger also attended graduate school at Loyola University, where she studied curriculum and instruction and eventually got her administrator certificate, though she doesn't know if she will ever leave the classroom.
“I really don't want to leave the classroom,” she said. “I have filled in at my school for our assistant principals, and it is good to see a different angle of education, but I definitely missed my students when I fill in [as an administrator]. I'm like, ‘What are they doing in my class? I wonder what they're learning.’”
Her favorite thing about working in the classroom is the hands-on kinesthetic learning that comes with science. Although virtual learning has been challenging, she has worked hard to keep her students engaged in learning.
“You never know what you're going to get with sixth grade,” said Ebersberger. “You don't know what you're going to get every day, and every day is something new. I don't want to be bored. Every day I come in, there's a challenge for me.”
Ebersberger said it is a shock and an honor to be a semifinalist for Teacher of the Year, but it’s also emotional.
“My dad is my biggest fan,” she said. “He said, when I got hired back in like 2006, ‘I expect your name to be in that paper for an award.’ So this means a lot.”
Broadneck High School
Melissa Quigley wears many hats at Broadneck High School. She teaches health, physical education and dance, while also coaching field hockey and unified lacrosse, acting as the department chair for physical education and dance and the wellness committee, and acting as the advisor for the Bruins Dance-A-Thon. She has worked at Broadneck for 20 years.
“This is my first and only teaching job,” she explained. “I've been lucky enough to stay here the whole time. But I'm also an alumnus of Broadneck. I think we have a pretty high percentage of alumni at Broadneck that come back and teach there.”
While most teachers in her department focus on physical education, dance or health, Quigley teaches both. While she enjoys health, her unified dance class is her favorite.
When deciding on her career, Quigley knew she wanted to work with children, but she didn’t want to sit behind a desk. After talking to her former physical education teacher and coach, she decided to become a teacher.
“I've always loved coaching,” said Quigley. “I know coaching and teaching are separate, but I kind of took that love for coaching and teaching healthy ways to live and put them together.”
Now that she has been teaching for two decades, Quigley has shifted her focus from physical education to health.
“I'm a big proponent of mental health for our students,” said Quigley. “That's kind of why I went from PE more to the health background, because I felt like I was making more of a difference in being mentors to students. They felt more comfortable coming to me.”
Building relationships with her students is her favorite part of the job.
“Because they're in high school, I've been able to have relationships with them after high school as well and kind of keep up with what they are doing,” she said. “And, you know, some of them still check in with me. I just enjoy seeing them grow and seeing them be successful.”
She said that this nomination has given her a chance to reflect on being a teacher and has validated her hard work.
“It is very humbling because the process kind of makes you self-reflect upon your teaching because you're all of the things that you have to do to get to each round; you're doing essays, reflection and stuff like that,” she explained. “But I guess I'm humbled by it, because they could have nominated anyone else because every other teacher deserves it.”