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Barbara Walton-Faria ’79, M.A. ’00

Teacher of the Year

When Rhode Island’s 2008 Teacher of the Year Barbara Walton-Faria wants to demonstrate a scientific concept to her eighth graders, she’s as likely to draw from life experience as from a textbook.

A self-described “Jacques Cousteau kid,” Walton-Faria graduated URI with a B.S. in environmental and life sciences. She spent several years on boats, working for a Newport oceanography firm. Marriage and motherhood spurred Walton-Faria to drop anchor and embark upon a second career as a middle school science teacher.

Seventeen years later, Walton-Faria makes science relevant to her students at Newport’s Thompson Middle School by involving them in hands-on scientific research. Currently her students are assisting scientists with the Plankton Monitoring Network of Narragansett Bay.

“It’s cool. The kids get to do identification, collection, reporting,” Walton-Faria said. “It’s applied learning.”

Walton-Faria’s former career gives her clout with the kids. “Oceanography carries weight with students. It’s the fact that I’ve done real science. I have the confidence to get a concept across to kids. Kids respect that.”

So do adults. The educator chosen Teacher of the Year is selected by assessing who best represents the top teachers in the state, Walton-Faria said, adding: “It’s completely overwhelming; I’m just somebody who works hard at my job. The state has many incredible educators, and they all need to be recognized.”

If Walton-Faria’s example is the measure of a good teacher then those who aspire to imitate might consider taking a trip to Hallmark. She sends each of her students a birthday card: “The kids absolutely love it.”

One of the highlights of being the state’s Teacher of the Year for Walton-Faria is an April visit to the White House to meet President Barack Obama. Another is the privilege of seeing students learn.

“I call myself a facilitator,” Walton-Faria said. “I’m someone who’s trying to get you to figure it out for yourself.”

—Marybeth Reilly-McGreen

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