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Courtesy photo Bethany Bernasconi, of Merrimack, is a biology teacher at Windham High School.
Thursday, April 26, 2012

Merrimack’s Bernasconi enjoying time with other educators in Washington, D.C.

Although a behind-the-scenes look at the National Zoo had obvious appeal for a high school biology teacher, it hasn’t been the highlight of Bethany Bernasconi’s week in Washington, D.C.

Nor was a reception in the vice president’s home given by Jill Biden, although that was interesting, too.

The highlight, Bernasconi said in a phone interview Wednesday, was a presentation by President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House to her and other winners of state Teacher of the Year awards.

“I don’t think there are words to describe it, to be in a place where all that history has occurred. Being where world leaders have met is really inspirational,” said Bernasconi, of Merrimack. “We met individually with the president … someone who has put student achievement at the heart of education policy.”

Bernasconi, 31, is a teacher at Windham High School. She was named the 2012 Teacher of the Year in September. Finalists for the 2013 award were announced earlier this month.

Bernasconi was one of 54 teachers – including from some U.S. possessions and one chosen among teachers in schools run by the Department of Defense for Americans overseas – in Washington this week for National Teacher of the Year ceremonies.

Ceremonies included official visits, Bernasconi said.

“We went where the general public doesn’t get to go,” she said.

There were also special tours of Smithsonian museums, with tips on maintaining exhibits and using them for education. As far as classroom value goes, though, the unofficial discussions among the winners probably had the most value.

“We network from about 7 in the morning at breakfast until 10 o’clock at night when meetings end,” Bernasconi said.

“It’s quite an interesting conglomeration of us, from kindergarten teachers right up through 12th-grade science. … It’s pretty evenly spread among topics. There’s an art teacher, music, a wellness instructor, science, math, English, history.”

The similarities were more important than the differences, she said.

“We all teach students, we don’t teach subjects,” Bernasconi said.

“There are some universal trends. Everyone’s facing budget cuts, everybody’s trying to recruit and maintain good teachers in the classroom, not have them burn out. We’re moving all of our students toward inquiry-based learning, hands-on problem solving.

“We’re looking for different avenues that we can engage students with, become lifelong learners.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or