Blanchard is Bexley Educator of Year; Bahamians arrive

Messenger photos by John Matuszak

Bexley High School chemistry teacher Rose Blanchard, the Bexley Education Foundation’s 2008 Educator of the Year, describes products from Andros Island in the Bahamas for Montrose Elementary students. Blanchard, who coordinates an ongoing book collection drive for Andros schools, will accompany island residents visiting Bexley the week of May 12.

Bexley High School chemistry teacher Rose Blanchard knows that no person is an island.

Her efforts to build a bridge between communities in the Bahamas and Bexley, which will culminate with a visit here this week, have earned her the Bexley Education Foundation’s 2008 Educator of the Year award.

Blanchard, a teacher in Bexley since 2001, was surprised by the announcement in her classroom May 2. She received $1,000 and a crystal apple, and will be honored at the BEF Education Appreciation banquet May 21.

"She educates everyone," commented Nancy Prater, a Montrose Elementary kindergarten teacher who has worked with Blanchard the past four years on a book collection drive that has netted more than 40,000 volumes for the school libraries on Andros Island in the Bahamas.

Some of the libraries had only a dozen books before Blanchard and others kicked off the effort.

Blanchard hugs Charlene Morgan, the BEF’s executive director, after the surprise announcement May 2. She will be honored at the foundation’s Education Appreciation banquet May 21.

"It’s opening up worlds to the kids in the Bahamas," Blanchard said of the library project. "There are kids who have read hundreds of books" donated by the Bexley community.

Last year, all of their reading test scores improved, and the Bahamian Minister of Education has asked Blanchard to keep the project going.

Blanchard is known on Andros Island, where she has worked since the 1970s, as "our angel."

The book drive, which has involved collecting, cataloguing and delivering tons of printed material, has shown Bexley students that they can be of service and make a difference in the lives of people thousands of miles away, the educator added.

As part of the ongoing cultural exchange, Blanchard will accompany five adults and five children from Andros who will visit Bexley the week of May 12.

The group includes artists and craftspeople who will share their talents with Bexley students.

Blanchard will meet the contingent in Florida and drive them as far as Kentucky, so they can see as much of the country as possible.

They will be greeted by students wearing batik dyed t-shirts, similar to those produced on the island, that the students made themselves.

Blanchard’s connection with Bexley students goes back a long time before she was hired by the district.

She was director of the Fofar Field Station in the Bahamas, where she would teach visiting Bexley students about the history and the flora and fauna of the islands.

"I worked with these kids’ parents," she said of her current students. "I taught them how to wash dishes."

While she was teaching at Buckeye Valley High School, a retirement created an opening in Bexley High’s science department. Blanchard was encouraged to apply by Jim Tatman, Scott Logsdon (both previous BEF Educators of the Year) and Craig Kramer, colleagues whom she had met in the Bahamas.

"Rose has dedicated her life to working with students young and old, here and abroad, sharing the wonders of science, while infusing a personal connection to learning," Logsdon and Kramer wrote in their nomination letter.

Students appreciate Blanchard’s creative, often humorous approach to the lessons.

"Guest" speaker Carey Less demonstrates lab safety, and Gurtrud Grizzle Finger Feather teaches about organic polymers.

But the fun and games has a purpose.

"I think she has provided me with a solid foundation for further study in chemistry which I hope will someday lead me to a career in medicine," sophomore Zoe Christenson wrote.

In preparation for the visit by the Bahamians, Blanchard has also been working with the elementary students.

Heidi Hiller, parent and co-chair of the Montrose Artist-in-the-Schools program, which is co-sponsoring the visit, has been impressed with how much even the youngest children retain from Blanchard’s lessons.

Blanchard said the highlight of her time in Bexley has been "working with a staff that all care about kids."

Andros visitors’ community events

Montrose Elementary kindergarten teacher Nancy Prater introduces visitors from Andros Island, the Bahamas, from left, Eddrico Colebrooke, Mary Lynn, Michelle Evans, Doramae Scott, Alicia Evans, L-abrielle Oliver, Virmeane Riley and Youterpy Riley. The group arrived May 12 and will be in Bexley until May 22, touring the community and meeting with students.
Montrose students, in the batik tye-dyed t-shirts they made themselves, sing about "The Frog in the Coconut Tree," a performance that they prepared for their Bahamian guests.

The community of Bexley will roll out the red carpet for "Ambassadors" from Andros Island in the Bahamas, who arrive on Sunday May 11.

The artists from Andros Island, who are residing with Bexley families and working with students in the schools, will stay in the community through Thursday, May 22.

Highlights of their Bexley visit include: the Montrose Elementary School welcome ceremony, 10 a.m., May 12 at Montrose; Community Welcome Ceremony, 6 p.m., May 15; and Junkanoo Parade, 2 p.m., May 21, Montrose.

On May 19, Cassingham and Maryland Elementary students will spend time with the artists at Montrose.

The group will also enjoy a special celebration at Johnson’s Ice Cream. The owner is making a special Andros flavor-of-the-week while the Ambassadors are here.

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