James M. Bennett High’s Hemalatha Bhaskaran Named the 2020-2021 Wicomico Teacher of the Year

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James M. Bennett High School’s Hemalatha Bhaskaran, an Environmental Science teacher, was named the 2020-2021 Wicomico Teacher of the Year May 7, 2020 in an announcement that aired on WBOC’s DelmarvaLife.

Mrs. Bhaskaran has taught Environmental Science at JMB since 2004. She is passionate about providing meaningful educational experiences for all of her students. “I teach at one of the most diverse high schools on the Eastern Shore and that is reflected in my classroom,” Mrs. Bhaskaran wrote in a writing prompt for Teacher of the Year semifinalists. “We have students whose families have lived on Delmarva for many generations, and others who have just arrived in our country in the past week. It is my personal mission to safeguard equity in my classroom.

“In my classroom, students work through the curriculum at their own pace and for mastery in a flexible learning environment. For example, for my ELL students, I have assignments translated in their native languages so that they understand the content. During field trips, I ensure that we have at least one person who can translate for the students, and the readings for my class are differentiated based on Lexile levels. Additionally, I use reflection sheets through which students give me feedback and suggestions. I also ask students what motivates them to learn and try to incorporate it into the curriculum.

“When we listen to students, give them a voice, value their input and provide them scaffolds to support learning, it is my experience that our students feel respected and ready to learn.”

This is not the first time that Mrs. Bhaskaran has been recognized as an outstanding teacher. She was the 2014 Maryland’s Environmental Science Teacher of the Year, and is currently the state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. She was a key member of her school’s successful effort to become a certified Maryland Green School. She promotes diversity beyond the classroom through her leadership of the Solutions for Multicultural Achievement and Recognition Team (SMART), and engages in collaborative leadership by serving in on her school’s Instructional Leadership Team, the Youth Environmental Action Summit’s steering committee, and the statewide Teacher Environmental Literacy Leadership.

Her thoughts on possibly becoming the Wicomico Teacher of the Year (written in February as part of that scored writing prompt) now ring especially true during these challenging times. “We are all in this together. This message is to the hearts and minds of everyone from parents to teachers to education leaders. Collaboration needs to be the culture at every level. We all need to play an active role in building the bridge between school and home. We need to break down communication barriers and have meaningful conversations. Parents, teachers and administrators need to be allies in the success of students.”

Mrs. Bhaskaran received a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Kongunadu College of Arts and Science (India) in 1998, and a master’s degree in Environmental Science from Bharathiar University (India) in 2000. She received a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2004, and was hired that year to teach Environmental Science and AP Environmental Science at James M. Bennett High School.

Mrs. Bhaskaran lives in Salisbury with her husband, Bhaskaran Subramanian, and their son, Adithya Bhaskaran, a student at Bennett Middle.

“I was very proud to announce the name of JMB’s Hemalatha Bhaskaran as our 2020-2021 Wicomico Teacher of the Year,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donna Hanlin, who was joined for the announcement on DelmarvaLife by Board of Education Vice Chairman Gene Malone. “Mrs. Bhaskaran has been outstanding in the classroom, and has engaged students in environmental action and leadership activities after school and in the community. She will be a wonderful representative of Wicomico teachers in the Maryland State Teacher of the Year Recognition Program.”

Wicomico Teacher of the Year Hemalatha “Hema” Bhaskaran represents the outstanding staff of James M. Bennett High and the more than 1,250 teachers of Wicomico County Public Schools. For the next year, she will represent Wicomico County Public Schools in the Maryland Teacher of the Year Recognition Program, which includes Maryland State Board of Education recognition in late July and the Maryland Teacher of the Year Gala in the fall. Wicomico is proud to have three former Maryland Teachers of the Year working in the school system on behalf of students: Aaron Deal, Bonnie Walston and April Todd.

Top Teachers

The Wicomico Teacher of the Year Recognition Program spotlights not just the year’s most outstanding teacher, but all Wicomico educators who demonstrate outstanding leadership, a commitment to excellence, dedication to teaching the children of the community, and professional achievement. Many teachers were nominated for Teacher of the Year. After rating reviews by administrators and supervisors, 25 semifinalists were selected.

In February, each semifinalist interviewed with a blue-ribbon judging panel, participated in a public speaking challenge called a “fishbowl,” and completed a writing prompt. Scores from each of these steps as well as the evaluations were compiled to determine the winning finalist for each of the four school levels, with the highest-scoring finalist becoming the Wicomico Teacher of the Year.

The finalists and winner would have been named at the Teacher of the Year Banquet on March 26th, but the banquet was put on hold along with all other events when schools were closed as part of the pandemic response. The semifinalists have waited and wondered since then. On Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Hanlin was able to surprise four of the semifinalists with the news that they are the finalists for 2020-2021 Wicomico Teacher of the Year. The four teachers were asked to participate in a WBOC DelmavaLife interview with Lisa Bryant and Dr. Hanlin about distance learning, and during the interview Dr. Hanlin shared the good news.

Finalists, in addition to Mrs. Bhaskaran for the high school level, are:

Primary: Chelsey Mangum, Prekindergarten 3 Year Olds, Beaver Run Elementary

Intermediate: Kelly Hamilton, Thinking and Doing (TAD) Program, North Salisbury Elementary

Middle School: James McCrobie, 6th- to 8th-Grade Social Studies/STEM, Salisbury Middle

The other 2020 semifinalists are:

Bennett Middle: Cindi Ashcraft, Special Education

Charles H. Chipman Elementary: Susan Biddle, Kindergarten

Choices Academy: Devin Smith, High School Math

Delmar Elementary: Katherine Diven, 4th Grade

East Salisbury Elementary: Breonna Hopkins, 3rd Grade

Fruitland Intermediate: Staci McGowan, Physical Education & Health

Fruitland Primary: Kellie Harvey, Music

Glen Avenue Elementary: Renee Peshoff, 2nd Grade

Mardela Middle and High: Kelly Wells, High School Math

Northwestern Elementary: John Cox, 3rd Grade

Parkside High: Allison Zaczkiewicz, Health Education & Teacher Academy of Maryland

Pemberton Elementary: Heather McDonough, 4th Grade

Pinehurst Elementary: Heather Cherry, 4th Grade

Pittsville Elementary and Middle: Sherree West, 4th Grade

Prince Street Elementary: James “Matt” McMurdo, 5th Grade

West Salisbury Elementary: Freda Morris, Prekindergarten

Westside Intermediate: Chris Okerblom, Physical Education & Health

Westside Primary: Danielle Thompson, Kindergarten

Wicomico High: Stephanie McCoy, CTE Interactive Media

Wicomico Middle: Jason Hussey, Social Studies

Willards Elementary: Jeffrey Thamert, 2nd Grade

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