Granite Falls teacher nation’s best

GRANITE FALLS – A Granite Falls elementary school music teacher with a knack for motivating students to excel will be named the nation’s teacher of the year Thursday at a White House ceremony.

President Bush is scheduled to make the announcement recognizing Andrea Peterson of Monte Cristo Elementary School as the nation’s top teacher.

“I don’t think anybody who would be chosen for this honor would ever think they would be the person chosen,” Peterson said. “It’s a huge honor, but it’s also just a humbling responsibility.”

Peterson was named Washington’s teacher of the year in October and one of four finalists for the national honor in January. She was informed that she was selected as teacher of the year several weeks ago but had to keep the news secret.

“When you talk with the other state teachers of the year, you are so overwhelmed with their passion and what they do with kids every day,” Peterson said. “As it sinks in with me, it’s a huge responsibility. I want to represent them well. I want to speak for education in a way that will honor what they do in the classroom every day.”

As national teacher of the year, Peterson will be released from her classroom duties for a year to travel the country representing the teaching profession.

She’ll savor the challenge, but miss her students in Granite Falls, she said.

Peterson has taught vocal and instrumental music for 10 years, all in Granite Falls.

When she first arrived, there was almost no funding for music and scare resources – six percussion instruments, including two broken ones, at the middle and high schools and eight percussion and 20 recorders in the elementary school music room.

She worked hard to build up the program, lobbying school and district leaders, as well as student, parent and community groups for support.

The high school now has $40,000 worth of new instruments and her school has $10,000 worth.

The program is much more than a collection of instruments, however. Peterson talks with colleagues about what they are teaching at each grade level and she caters her lessons to the classroom curriculum.

That often means composing music and encouraging students to write scripts, compose and perform for their community. Adaptations have included S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” Lemony Snicket’s “Series of Unfortunate Events” and Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

“Innately, every child and every adult is a musician,” Peterson said. “They may be performers, composers and-or listeners of music, but every human being has an inborn desire to participate in music.”

And that includes reluctant students.

“My greatest accomplishments in education occur when I see a student who is failing in the classroom, but finds success for the first time in the music classroom,” she said.

Success in her classroom will plant seeds for growth in others, she said.

Fellow teachers appreciate her work, said Debra Howell, a Monte Cristo teacher.

“Andrea Peterson is every teacher, student and parent’s dream of the ideal music teacher,” Howell said. “She has the natural abilities, talents and true passion to make a difference every day in every child’s education.”

It has been an eventful few weeks for Peterson, who gave birth to her first child, Faith Elizabeth Peterson, March 24. She said she has a lot of family support as she embarks on her busy year as mother and education ambassador.

Peterson said the award reflects well on her community, a small-town school district.

“It truly belongs to the community of Granite Falls, to the students I teach and the teachers I collaborate with who have to put up with me. I’m so fortunate to be able to tell this story about Granite Falls.”

Andrea Peterson, an elementary school music teacher in Granite Falls, has been named national teacher of the year. President Bush is scheduled to recognize her Thursday in a White House ceremony.

The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and is run by Council of Chief State School Officers. A panel of the 15 largest national education organizations chose the finalists.

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