Haverhill High School educator wins Bammy Award

Nancy Burke, at right, toured the garden last week with MTA President Barbara Madeloni. Nancy Burke, at right, toured the garden last week with MTA President Barbara Madeloni.

Haverhill High School special education paraeducator Nancy Burke received a national Bammy Award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences on Saturday evening, September 26.

Burke won the award for going above and beyond as a special educator, engaging her students and improving the school climate through her work. Her winning efforts included a recent project in which she, along with students and local volunteers, worked to build a garden that serves as an outdoor learning lab for the nearly 30 students in the school’s life-skills program.

Burke said the garden “is a powerful learning tool for educating the whole child. School gardens create enthusiasm for learning, encourage healthy eating and foster team-building skills.” She uses the garden to encourage her students to be creative, collaborate and apply critical-thinking skills.

Bammys are cross-discipline awards that recognize the contributions of educators across the entire field of public education.

Burke, the first paraeducator to be honored with a Bammy, was one of five special education finalists announced earlier this year. She learned that she had won at a “watching party” attended by family members, Haverhill High colleagues, fellow Haverhill Education Association and MTA members and representatives from the National Education Association. She was interviewed via Skype during the ceremony.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García congratulated Burke and other NEA-member Bammy nominees in a video message aired during the ceremony. “Thank you for all you do — for working so hard. We’re all so proud of you,” Eskelsen García said.

Nearly two years ago, Burke asked permission to build raised garden beds in a vacant interior school courtyard. With an NEA/MTA $800 grant, Burke and her colleagues, assisted by students in general education classes and several local Eagle Scouts, built the raised beds, benches and a ramp for wheelchairs.

In addition to growing healthy foods for students, the garden serves as a learning lab, a therapeutic garden and a safe and relaxing space that allows Burke’s students fresh air and a way to connect with nature. Students learn life skills by preparing the food they have grown in a special kitchen in the school’s special education department.

Interested in creating a garden at your school? Learn more Nancy Burke and her students in the MTA video, "How to Create a School Garden" . For photos, please click here.