Blackboard Awards: Laurel Nyeboe, Opening the Doors to the World

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By Mary Stachyra In Laurel Nyeboe's classroom, second- and third-grade children discuss stories in The New York Times, jump in place to solve math problems and earn certificates for good behavior. It's a way of following the curriculum and having fun at the same time, and parents at P.S. 40, Augustus Saint-Gaudens School, have taken notice-so much so that they wouldn't mind reliving their elementary school days themselves. "I wish I was 7 again and in her class," said Carla Massey, a parent at the school. Nyeboe, 58, has been an educator for 23 years and has taught at P.S. 40 for the last five. Her goal in teaching is to make sure the students learn math, reading, writing and all the fundamentals, but she doesn't stop there; she works through the curriculum and the children's passions to help them develop critical thinking skills and social consciousness. "My premise is opening up the world to the children and exposing them to it as much as possible," Nyeboe said. "I want them to live in a bigger world." Nyeboe starts off every year reading books by Roald Dahl and Robert Munsch, whose zany stories help children see "outside a formula." She encourages the children to discuss stories in the newspaper in a way that's age-appropriate and uses terms they understand to keep them engaged. One parent remembered her third-grader coming home and saying, "Mom, are you aware of the tax problems in Paris?" It's that sort of experience that makes Nyeboe popular with parents. "Ms. Nyeboe infuses her students with her enthusiasm for learning. Her curiosity is contagious. She has a direct pipeline to the imaginations of her students. She knows what makes children tick. She sees the world in a grain of sand," Massey wrote, nominating Nyeboe for a Blackboard Award. "She opens doors to the world and inspires students to cross their threshold. Each of her students feels loved." Nyeboe got her start in education at P.S. 183 under then-principal Tanya Kaufman, who transformed the struggling school to a success story. At P.S. 183, Nyeboe worked on a "looping" schedule, where teachers spend time with the same kids year after year. That experience allowed her to develop deep relationships with the families. "One mother I'm still friends with claims I helped her raise her child," Nyeboe recalled fondly. After 15 years at P.S. 183, she moved on to the New Teacher Mentor Program, where she stayed for the next three years. She missed spending time with students in classroom, though, so she took a position at P.S. 40. Nyeboe recently took the LSAT and plans to go into school law. This fall, she'll also move on to a new school where she will reconnect with a former colleague as her new principal. "It's like coming home," she said.

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