The celebration couldn’t have been sweeter for a science teacher on her birthday. There were balloons, flowers and a cake.
But it wasn’t your ordinary birthday party. It was a gala event in front of the entire student body with special guests and a surprise announcement.
Sarah Deel had no idea this day would be made even more special than commemorating her birth. She wanted to skip out early from the planned student assembly in order to work on a project in her classroom. The principal said “no” so she prepared to stay for the entire event said to be a promotion of good spirit for a successful school year.
The good spirit included music from the school band and performances from cheerleaders, not just for the school but especially for Deel.
And was she ever surprised when called forward to be told she had been named Region 7 Teacher of the Year.
Deel was among eight teachers across the state learning on Thursday of their new titles during surprise classroom visits, school assemblies and announcements. She was congratulated by her principal, Mike Davidson, by Dr. Dennis Carter, superintendent of Smyth County Schools, and other administration members along with school board members, faculty, and Leah Walker, director of Equity and Community Engagement on behalf of the Virginia Department of Education, who presented Deel with a certificate and signed letter from Governor Ralph Northam.
“We can never do enough to celebrate the commonwealth’s outstanding teachers and the passion they bring to preparing young Virginians for success in school and beyond,” Northam said. “All of the educators selected today as 2020 Virginia Regional Teachers of the Year are recognized by their colleagues and school divisions as the best of the best.”
Deel said she has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. “My high school teachers made a big impact on my life, and I hope to make a positive impact on the lives of my students,” she said.
Deel was eligible to be named Teacher of the Year for Region 7 through her designation as Smyth County Teacher of the Year for 2020, an announcement made this past spring.
A panel, including classroom teachers, representatives of professional and educational associations, and the business community reviewed portfolios by the county teacher designees and selected the eight regional teachers of the year. The panel will now interview each of the eight regional teachers to select the 2020 Virginia Teacher of the Year, to be announced on Monday, Oct. 7, during a ceremony at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
The 2020 Virginia Teacher of the Year will be the commonwealth’s nominee in the National Teacher of the Year Program. Three previous Virginia teachers, in 1998, 1989 and 2019, went on to be named National Teacher of the Year.
Deel is in her sixth year of teaching, focusing on biology, anatomy, zoology and Earth Science. In 2012, she completed a Bachelor of Science with a major in biological sciences, and she earned a Master of Arts in Education from Virginia Tech in 2014.
Deel grew up playing outside and developed a love of nature that, combined with an enjoyment of working with people and helping fellow students succeed, led her on the path to teach science.
She said that her overall goal is that “each of my students truly knows that I care about them as individuals. I want to be an inspiration to them and instill a love for science and for learning.” To meet that goal, she works beyond the classroom to improve the overall school culture through starting the Science Club, serving as class sponsor, assisting with the Forensics team, and attending athletic events.
Deel works with the Upward Bound Program in Wytheville, an educational program that helps high school students develop skills to be successful in college and careers. This program gives her an opportunity to work with students from surrounding counties.
During the celebration ceremony, Davidson shared an experience during a visit in Deel’s classroom.
“I had the opportunity to learn from Ms. Deel during her first year at Marion Senior High School,” he said. “One of the first days of school, I entered Ms. Deel’s classroom to observe her teaching. It was coincidental that Ms. Deel was presenting a lesson to her students on being an observant scientist in her classroom. She shocked the students and me as she lit a candle, allowed everyone to observe the burning, and then bit the top off and ate it. There was silence in the room until Ms. Deel revealed that what we assumed as a candle was actually a cheese stick with an almond burning as the wick. The students and I were stunned. And, I was convinced that Ms. Deel had a great future at MSHS.”
Secondary science educator and Deel’s colleague, Hannah Sage, wrote in her nomination, “Ms. Deel creates lessons that are meaningful to students. She will relate her content to the real world. She recently worked on creating awareness and action on the plastic pollution plaguing our planet. She allows the students to realize this is a global problem that is affecting and will continue to affect our students well into the future. She has provoked them not only in thought but in action. This coming academic year the students will create a public service announcement to put on the radio and in the newspaper to educate the community. This is the highest level of engagement all teachers should strive to achieve.”
“I hope to inspire my students to work hard, be involved, and follow their dreams,” said Deel. “I want them to become lifelong learners and see that science is everywhere!”