Peoria Journal Star 

April 15, 2005

Lesson plans come first
Award-winning Norwood teacher meets Bush, takes notes

By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - After meeting President Bush and walking through halls of the U.S. Capitol, award-winning teacher Rebecca Jaramillo will have plenty of new lesson material for her students at Norwood Elementary School.

From dinner at the State Department to a behind-the-scenes look at the White House, the 27-year, special-education teacher kept detailed notes in her journal and took lots of digital photos.

"It's something I wish every teacher could do because I am so excited to go back to the classroom and share these things with my students," said Jaramillo, 48.

She's one of 95 teachers from around the country spending the week in Washington as winners of the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

On Thursday afternoon, she and the others met Bush, who thanked them for their service to children and posed for a group photo.

"I got to shake the president's hand," Jaramillo said excitedly after the meeting, which was closed to the media.

At the White House, Jaramillo wore an ivory-colored elephant pin that belonged to her sister, Elisabeth Foster, who died last June at age 39.

When Jaramillo learned last week she'd won the award for her science lessons and would be flying to Washington, her first thought was of her sister.

"She would have said, 'You take care of lesson plans, I'll do the wardrobe.' So I brought her with me as best I could," Jaramillo said, touching the pin.

Earlier, she also met with U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria.

Jaramillo plans to incorporate her many photos into lessons for her students by showing them on a computer screen. "I have very carefully journaled all the details of things - what we had to eat, who we got to meet and where we've been."

She hopes to use her trip to make government and historical events more relevant to her students.

"Anytime I can find connections for the kids, then I think I've done my job," she said.

Sometimes, it's not easy. About 43 percent of students at her school are from families below poverty-level incomes. Only a few of them have been outside the Peoria area. Some of them haven't even been to the city of Peoria, just a few miles east of Norwood, a town of 475 people.

"We have to bring the world to them," she said. "The kids just don't come to us with a lot of cultural experiences."

Jaramillo said she isn't sure why she was chosen for the award, established by Congress in 1983 and administered by the National Science Foundation.

"I know that I have a gift in the classroom, but I don't think I'm better than a lot of other teachers," she said. "I'm so fortunate that I get to go to work every day in a job that I really like and I get paid to do that."