School: World Language Academy
Teaches: Seventh- and eighth-grade science and math
Years at school: 3
Years teaching: 20
City of residence: Lula
Quote: “I engage them. I want them to be excited and want to come back to my class. I want them to wonder ‘What are we doing today?’”
World Language Academy science and math teacher Laurie Brown, who was recently named Teacher of the Year for Hall County Schools, likes to display organs of the animals dissected. Her classroom is designed to engage students’ imagination, curiosity and creativity.
For example, to teach her students about the respiratory system, Brown brought out a cow’s heart and lungs, reeking of formaldehyde.
“We dissected a cow eye — it was cool,” student Diana Caldero said.
The 12-year-old is one of Brown’s science enrichment students. Brown’s passion for science and students like Caldero is evident in every inch of her classroom.
The back of the classroom is where some of the ongoing student experiments are kept. There are Petri dishes with swabs of students’ hand bacteria and a miniature garden of onions and celery growing asexually.
A heart, which students made out of blue and red tape, is outlined on the floor and was used to teach students about the organ. Brown had her students walk on the tape in the pattern that blood pumps through the heart’s veins.
“There’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” she said of the room.
She has microscopes sitting out next to a genetic experiment she’s hoping to finish up with next year’s students.
There’s a shelf full of books about animals, as well as a horseshoe crab, antlers and a wasp’s nest.
“Kids don’t get outside anymore, so I like to bring a bit of the outside in my room,” she said. “I feel like it piques their interest.”
On one wall hangs a white board, which is where Brown asks her students to answer a question. Magnificent Monday was the theme the week the students got back from Thanksgiving, and she asked them to describe what was magnificent about their break.
“I don’t do it every day, but a lot,” she said.
It allows her to have some insight into what’s going on in their lives, what kind of mood they’re in, or even sometimes what’s going on at home.
Brown also understands the minds of middle schoolers, who are going through what she calls hormone heaven.
“They love competition, and they’re all about instant gratification,” she said.
She’s also a self-classified “high-energy and loud” person, which is compatible with their attitudes.
Since she knows this about them, she sets up challenges for them that she calls “productive struggle” to prepare them for the real world, where teachers don’t read instructions for you. She also said middle school is a time when students are still on the fence about school, and it’s her job to keep them interested.
“I want to reach them on the front end and make a difference,” Brown said.
Some of her eighth-grade students were especially excited when the principal came to her classroom and interrupted a math test.
To Brown’s surprise, an entourage of administrators came with flowers to tell her that she is teacher of the year for Hall County Schools.
“It’s such an honor to be selected,” Brown said. “I am still in disbelief.”
Superintendent Will Schofield, Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, and World Language Academy Principal Laurie Hitzges congratulated Brown on her big win during the Nov. 15 announcement.
“The kids were excited. They got to stop taking their test,” Brown said. She has taught for 20 years, three of which have been at the South Hall school.
She teaches three seventh-grade life science classes, a seventh-grade science enrichment class and the eighth-grade math class.
Science enrichment is an 18-week course designed for students who are interested in a career in the medical field.
“We learn the systems of the body,” student Josselin Aguilar said. “It’s cool; it’s fun.”
The medical field is an area of expertise for Brown since she worked as a director for a cardiology rehabilitation program in the southern Georgia city of Thomaston for 10 years.
“It was pretty demanding,” Brown said. “I loved it, though.”
During that time in the 1990s, she didn’t like the direction the hospital business was going and had four young children she was raising.
Now her kids are older. Abby, 28, and Katie, 24, live in Gainesville, while her oldest, Mary Beth, 27, lives near Charlotte, N.C. Her son Bradley, 22, is a senior at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Brown said having kids, and now grandkids, has kept her on her toes.
“I try to be the teacher that I would want my kids to have,” she said.
Brown even taught three out of her four children during her career.