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Broken Arrow Express

B.A. Teacher is State Teacher of the Year

Managing Editor

FAR-REACHING HONOR: Broken Arrow 2017 District Teacher of the Year Donna Gradel has been named the Oklahoma 2018 Teacher of the Year.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

In September, Broken Arrow 2017 District Teacher of the Year Donna Gradel was named the Oklahoma 2018 Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said that Gradel’s commitment to teaching has translated into positive change well beyond the Broken Arrow district.

“Donna understands the true potential of each of her students,” said Hofmeister. “She differentiates instruction to meet the needs of each individual, challenges them to solve real-world problems, then goes one step further by modeling opportunities to implement their innovations to make a difference in the lives of people in Oklahoma and across the globe.”

A 29-year veteran educator, Gradel began her teaching career after receiving one of the first women’s basketball scholarships to West Virginia University. A shortage of teaching jobs in West Virginia at the time steered her to a special education classroom, where she was determined to maximize possibilities for her students and developed her philosophy of teaching: “Children are yearning to be inspired, to go beyond what they think they can accomplish.”

Gradel holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education with a minor in biology from West Virginia University. She later earned her master’s degree in early childhood motor development, largely focusing on the long-term effects of environment versus genetics in a person’s development of motor skills.

Gradel wrote in her Teacher of the Year application: “Each student has potential – potential to learn regardless of where their starting point is. Students are interested in nature and science and discovery, and they have a very strong sense of purpose in their life. They want to make a difference, and they want to have an impact on their world.”

After coming to the greater Tulsa area, Gradel spent five years at Nathan Hale High School, teaching biology and coaching girls’ basketball.

She, then, moved to Broken Arrow Public Schools and has been with the district for 21 years, her total years in education being 30.

In 2009, Gradel involved her students in Project Learning Tree, a national green schools program through which her students introduced several environmentally-friendly initiatives to the High School, including a recycling program and composting area. They also conducted energy and air quality audits to determine energy-saving measures.

“It got students thinking, ‘we’re doing all this here on our campus, why aren’t we doing this somewhere else, doing something bigger?’” says Gradel. “It raised their awareness.”

Starting in 2012, Gradel’s students began to design a large-scale aquaponics system to provide clean water and a sustainable food system to raise fish and plants for impoverished orphans in a remote region of Kenya. Then, after additional research and data collection, Gradel and her students traveled to Africa to complete the system.

In addition to her work in Kenya, where Gradel also provides curriculum and science supplies to a school that rescues victims of human trafficking, she has made numerous contributions within her community.

Gradel promotes environmental education programs through Project Learning Tree and helps monitor water quality for local streams through the Blue Thumb Program. She is working with local officials on Broken Arrow’s Monarch Initiative and the design of the city’s first ecological green park. With her students, Gradel built an outdoor ecological classroom and planted dozens of trees with Up with Trees.

She distributes backpacks and supplies to local schools and distributes food and bicycles to foster children at Christmas. A breast cancer survivor, Gradel strives to increase awareness as a KTUL Channel 8 Buddy Check Survivor and as a 12-time Race for the Cure participant. Her other volunteer work includes projects with Meals on Wheels, Night to Shine Special Needs Prom, Salvation Army, Gatesway Foundation, Broken Arrow Neighbors and Habitat for Humanity.

To recruit and retain teachers, Gradel advocates for providing educators access and time to collaborate with college professors, school administrators and experienced mentors, free or reduced tuition for graduate programs, stipends for teachers in high-need areas and professional development created through the private sector.

Gradel will remain in her classroom for the rest of the school year. Beginning July 1, 2018, she will assume full-time Teacher of the Year duties, which include speaking engagements and serving as Oklahoma’s teacher ambassador, encouraging others to enter or remain in the profession.

Updated 10-19-2017

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