When Sharon Bryant's fourth-graders at Lincolnway Elementary School started wearing rubber band bracelets of all colors from the Rainbow Loom craze this year, she bought a kit, learned how to make them and gave them to her students.
"You would think it's the world," Bryant said of passing out the bracelets.
For Bryant, part of teaching is discovering what is interesting to her students outside the classroom, and using those "connection points" to get to know them better.
The teacher's efforts have resonated with her students, whether it's during the school day or in the early-morning chess clubs she's held in her 13 years as a teacher in the West York Area School District.
Teaching award: Bryant was one of five teachers selected to receive a Teacher Impact Award from WGAL 8 and Rotary Club District 7390. The award honors educators who have influenced students' lives, both academically and personally.
Bryant was nominated by fifth-grader Madge Myers, who was in Bryant's classroom last year and is still a part of the chess club.
Madge's mother, Jennifer Myers, said her daughter saw the advertisement on WGAL for the award and immediately suggested nominating Bryant.
Myers said her daughter is "bright," but struggled with motivation in school in previous years. Bryant changed that — and Madge's outlook on school and her future in the process, Myers said.
"As parents we were so thankful, but my daughter really understood the impact she (Bryant) had," Myers said.
Madge wrote a letter nominating Bryant and included examples of how she had seen her teacher impact other students, too.
Chess: Bryant meets with students from Lincolnway once a week for chess club, an activity the teacher said she started because the game boosts math and reading skills. The students go to tournaments on weekends, and Bryant gushed with pride about the numerous students over the years who have placed in competitions.
Bryant figures out a way to individualize the classroom for each of her students, Superintendent Emilie Lonardi said.
"Parents never have to worry about whether their child is challenged in her class," Lonardi said.
Rewards: Bryant said one of her teaching methods is to ask more questions instead of just giving answers to her students. And the reward comes later, when students show "interested learning" by going deeper into a lesson.
Bryant said one of those "reward" moments came recently while her class has been working on writing biographies. One of her students, writing about mountaineer and explorer Edmund Hillary, found some information from books but came up with a list of questions he wanted to research further online. The student even came up with questions he would have asked the late Hillary, had he gotten the chance to meet him.
"He had that down to an art," Bryant said.
Bryant said she'll occasionally ask her students for a progress report, for things she's doing well and things she needs to improve. One of her students this year commented, "Oh gosh, Miss Bryant, you give us hope!"
"What else more is there to teaching than that?" she asked.
Bryant will be honored at a banquet in May and will be featured on a Learning Matters segment on WGAL.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.