Tina Nicpan-Brown

For Tina Nicpan-Brown, the art of teaching comes down to fostering and nurturing the curiosity of young minds. What a great reminder that learning (and teaching) are human endeavors rather than mindless mechanical processes.

Rufus Woods

Rufus Woods

As the regional teacher of the year, Brown was the keynote speaker at the North Central Education Foundation’s recent ceremony to honor teachers who received $300 grants to support hands-on classroom learning. A total of 156 grants totaling nearly $45,000 were awarded — a record for the foundation.

Brown, who has been teaching for 21 years, has been one of the most creative educators I’ve come across. She is dedicated to meeting kids where they are and finding ways to inspire them.

Brown, a native of Chicago, taught at Lincoln Elementary for 16 years and, after the pandemic hit, switched to the Wenatchee Internet Academy where she has continued to use her talents as an innovator.

The secret to her success as an innovative and engaging teacher is nurturing curiosity. “I am doing everything in my power this year to get my message out about how I’m making kids curious again,” Brown told her fellow teachers.

Brown has no patience for hand-wringing about the supposed learning loss during the pandemic. The kids, she said, learned differently. Instead, she’s focusing on what is possible — what she can help create to engage students.

“During the pandemic, we had to become creative and curious about new ways of getting our kids engaged,” she told the teachers.

In one instance, she and her family took the family trailer to Bainbridge Island. Working remotely, she connected her students with the Japanese Internment camp on that island and interviewed the director in real time. What a great example of bringing history to life for students.

She is famous for holding a winter camp at Lake Wenatchee that allows students to experience life differently than from the comforts of home and a regular classroom. She also created a cooking and shopping experience for students at Pybus Public Market. The students received money to buy the ingredients at Pybus businesses, then cooked the meal and served it to community members. Just think of the kind of learning that happened that would never have been possible in a classroom.

Here’s how she described the student experience and the impact to the teachers at the grant awards ceremony for the education foundation:

“Curiosity is what our kids lost a long time ago when we decided that teaching a curriculum or a pacing calendar became more important than focusing on standards and giving students choice.

“So if we provide these opportunities for kids to be curious, then naturally our own anxiety is going to come down. We’re not going to worry about standardized testing, right? If they’re curious and they can ask questions and look around, we don’t have to worry about it.

“We’re not going to have a problem getting parents involved because they’re going to be making cheese with their kids at home. They’re going to want to come volunteer because they can’t believe you’re going to take their kid in a cabin that only has a wood burning stove. We don’t have to worry about poverty because everyone’s getting the same experience at the same time.”

How fortunate we are that we have outstanding educators like Brown and hundreds of others working with our kids. Brown was a finalist this year for the Presidential Award for math and science teaching.

We are indeed blessed to have great educators like Tina Nicpan-Brown in our midst.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com or (509) 665-1162.

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