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North Quincy High School science teacher Cara Pekarcik has been named the 2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.
Pekarcik has been teaching science at North Quincy High since 2006. Before that she was a biologist who studied whales off the coast of Massachusetts for the Whale Center of New England in Gloucester. One of her favorite parts of the job was leading student groups on tours, teaching young people about marine life and science.
"I spent a lot of time with adults and young children teaching them about whale ecology and just really enjoyed the aspect of education," Pekarcik said of her old job. "And I thought I might give it a try."
The entire student body packed into North Quincy High's gymnasium Tuesday morning to celebrate the school's Teacher Appreciation Day, after spending the better part of the morning making posters to celebrate their favorite teachers.
It was state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester who broke the news to the student body about Pekarcik's award.
"It gives me great pleasure to announce the 2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Cara Pekcarcik," Chester said to cheers.
Pekcarcik found out days ago that she had been chosen, but in this moment she said it still felt unbelievable.
"I had never really thought of it until I got the email that my principal had nominated me and I thought, 'I don't even understand how this is possible!'"
Pekarcik is known for using real-world examples to teach her students about science and biology. In class, she uses topics like the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food as starting points for student research and debates.
Daniel Johnson-Tatelbaum, an 18-year-old North Quincy High School senior, says Pekarcik is one of those teachers that makes learning fun and interesting, even if you aren't that interested in the subject.
"Just yesterday she was able to bring in somebody from Reptiles On The Move, so we got to handle like five to 10 different species of reptiles and amphibians and she is excellently capable of continuously doing that kind of stuff. So that's one of the reasons I appreciate her so much as a teacher."
Pekarcik says she's just doing what she loves.
Last year's Teacher of the Year winner, ninth grade humanities teacher Sydney Chaffee of Codman Academy in Dorchester, recently won National Teacher of the Year. Pekarcik will soon be in the running for the national honor too.
This segment aired on May 9, 2017.
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