A visitor to Colleen Manchester’s classroom recently would have seen a batch of model bridges constructed out of wooden blocks.
“We’re in the middle of our building bridges unit,” Manchester said, explaining the collection of structures around the room.
Manchester’s project represents part of the gift she brings to St. John Regional Catholic School, where she was named teacher of the year, Principal Karen Smith said.
Not only does Manchester teach her third-graders, but she has a special gift for science, technology, engineering and math curricula that she shares with the school’s 500 students, Smith said in a telephone interview.
“It’s exciting,” Manchester said of STEM initiatives.
“She’s just willing to go the extra mile to provide enrichment,” Smith said.
Manchester was tidying up from the end of the week with her third grade’s combined engineering and math project on bridges, and dismissed the notion that her title as teacher of the year made her in any way superior.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “Truly, it’s embarrassing; no teacher stands alone.”
She approaches her job with enthusiasm and has for six years at St. John, Smith said.
“She’s very dedicated to planning engaging lesson plans,” Smith said.
“I do love designing the lesson that’s going to make them think,” Manchester said.
She added that she is thrilled to see the students find a way to use their school learning in the real world, building a bridge that works because the math was correct, for example.
“I want them to be problem-solvers,” she said.
She is known for her classroom bulletin board labeled “Things That Make You Say Hmmm.” She uses it to remind students, and herself, to be curious everywhere in life and to share discoveries.
On that bulletin board, they pin up their curious finds: a bagworm sack, seedpods that look like alien visitors, cicadas’ molted skins.
She paused to answer a question about what makes her enthusiastic day in and day out.
“It’s the teaching,” she said.
Manchester said she strives to create a classroom environment where students with diverse learning needs feel successful and valued. She does not strive to be everyone’s favorite teacher, but she wants all students to feel as if they were her favorite.
“I want them to say, ‘She treated everyone the same,’” she said.
“She really wants all her students to be successful,” Smith said.