Excitement was certainly in the air on May 12th as people filled the Hall of Flags in the Maine State Capitol Building for an announcement to be made by the Maine Department of Education. Among the guests were several 4th and 5th graders from the Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School (CASS) in Belfast, part of RSU 71. The students are part of 4th grade teacher Nancy Nickerson’s Journalism Club and what they don’t yet know is that their teacher Mrs. Nickerson was about to be named a County Teacher of the Year, along with 15 other educators from across Maine.
Nickerson, who had only known for a short time herself, wanted her students to join in the excitement by being there for the wonderful surprise that afternoon. So, she invited them to come to the State House to write a story about something cool that was going on in the Hall of Flags, for their school newspaper, The CASS Times.
Nickerson started The CASS Times during the 2020/2021 school year as a way to let the community know what it was like going to school during the pandemic. “We started a small class paper to begin with.” Nickerson explained that her 4th graders would publish an article a month in the Republican Journal, a local paper, about what it was like at CASS. “Every student in the class got a chance to write an article, and interview teachers and classmates for the Republican Journal. It was amazing,” said Nickerson.
After great success with “COVID Classroom” the students decided that they wanted to keep The CASS Times going by expanding the initiative into an after-school club and inviting other fifth graders and fourth graders to join. The students now create a monthly 24-page newspaper with an assortment of articles, and one article in particular, slated for the next issue was going to be about this big announcement.
“It really means a lot to me that you are here,” Nickerson said to her students as they looked around the Hall of Flags wide-eyed with anticipation. Prior to the announcement Nickerson had arranged for the students to get the chance to meet and interview Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin has part of their article.
When the event began the students took their place in the crowd to watch the announcement unfold, notebooks and pencils in hand. As each of the 16 teachers were announced and honored, cheers and applause filled the room. When the 2022 Waldo County Teacher of the Year was announced as Nancy Nickerson there was big roar of excitement from the back of the room where Ms. Nickerson’s students could be seen cheering with their hands in the air and big smiles on their faces.
“When I heard Mrs. Nickerson’s name being called I screamed, ‘That’s my TEACHER!’,” said 4th grader Maggie Maheu.
“Sounds like Nancy has some fans,” said 2022 Maine State Teacher of the Year Kelsey Stoyanova who was emceeing the event. She then paused the announcement to acknowledge the students in the back. “Welcome to Nancy’s fans,” she said with a smile and a wave before continuing the announcement.
“When I saw the Maine County Teacher of the Year pin on Mrs. Nickerson’s shirt, I knew she had won the award,” said 5th grade Eliot Fowler who is editor of the The CASS Times. “I was really excited and proud of Mrs. Nickerson for all of her hard work and amazing teaching.”
Guided by their fearless and dedicated editor and fellow journalist Eliot, the students went on to publish an article for their May issue of The CASS Times which included their interview with Commissioner Makin: read the article here.
A little more about the Journalism Club:
Nickerson tells us that between 15 and 20 kids show up every week to write, eat snacks, play outside, listen to journalists to talk with them, and go on special field trips like the State House visit. The group also recently did a bake sale for Ukraine, raising close to $900.00. “The kids baked everything and took turns ‘manning’ the bake sale for an entire morning,” said Nickerson. “We even had some community members come in to purchase items. I’m pretty proud of them,” she added.