DODEA teacher of the year: ‘It’s a huge honor’
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 8, 2014
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The moment it dawned on her that the accolades being shared at the staff meeting were about her, Sarah Loomis couldn’t stop shaking.
Loomis, an educational technologist at Kaiserslautern Elementary School, and her colleagues were meeting the Department of Defense Education Activity’s new director, Thomas Brady.
Brady used the opportunity to announce DODEA’s selection for teacher of the year, reading comments others said about the educator and her achievements before revealing her name.
When Loomis heard the word “technology,” she knew it was her.
“The more that he read, the faster she shook,” said Marion Sutton, Loomis’ principal, who was sitting behind her and was in on the surprise.
Later, Brady gave Loomis a hug and observed she was still shaking when they stood for a photo, Loomis said.
“I’m like, ‘This is huge,’ ” she recalled saying. “I wasn’t ready.”
Loomis has stopped shaking, though admitted her hands were sweating during an interview Friday. She’s not used to all the attention. But she’s thrilled to represent the nation’s military school system, for which she’s worked the past 12 years.
“It’s a huge, huge honor,” she said. “I represent all of the teachers in DODEA now and the education profession. There couldn’t be a greater honor than to represent your colleagues.
“I’m passionate about education,” she added. “It’s very exciting to go out and share that with others.”
As DODEA’s teacher of the year, she’ll go on to compete for national teacher of the year honors, and next spring she and other state finalists will go to the White House and meet the president.
Loomis, 44, came to DODEA in 2004 by way of Alaska. After one year of teaching seventh-grade math at Bitburg Middle School, she filled a vacancy for the school’s educational technologist, a position she held at Kaiserslautern Middle School, Kaiserslautern High School, Ramstein Intermediate School and, for the last four years, at KES.
“It’s a fantastic job,” she said. “I love it.”
Loomis doesn’t have a classroom in the traditional sense. Her job is to “help integrate technology into the classroom in meaningful ways — not just, ‘Oh, we used the computer today,’ ” she said. She goes where she’s needed, helping students in their classrooms, leading instruction on computers at the library or collaborating with her colleagues, among other tasks.
“She never slows down,” Sutton said.
Sutton nominated Loomis for teacher of the year, something she’s never done, she said. “She’s phenomenal. She’s never afraid to try new things. She’s so enthusiastic” she can work with everyone on staff. “You don’t find that very often,” Sutton said.
This school year, Loomis introduced computer coding, inspired by the “Hour of Code,” a nationwide campaign asking schools, teachers and parents to help introduce students to computer programming during Computer Science Education Week in December.
“When I found out about [the campaign], I asked Ms. Sutton, ‘I don’t know how to computer program at all, but I think this would be a really great experience for the kids,’ ” Loomis recalled.
With the green light, Loomis introduced basic computer coding to the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes.
They ate it up.
“I was thinking it was only going to be maybe three or four lessons, and I did it every Thursday for two quarters,” she said.
“The school was on fire,” Sutton said.
One pupil made a game with a race car track and obstacles, Loomis said.
“The kids would walk down the hall and say, ‘How many lines of code did you write today?’ ‘I made a game last night. You’ve got to see it.’
“I was just blown away by their excitement,” Loomis said.
Even the youngest students at KES, the kindergartners, are using technology. On Friday, a class of 5-year-olds sat before desktop computers in the library composing a digital Father’s Day card. They typed sentences to their dads and illustrated the background.
With a smile and patience, Loomis stopped to help every child, answering their questions and monitoring their progress.
“What button do you push to erase backwards? Excellent,” she told one pupil.
And to another: “What’s one of your dad’s favorite things to do?” When the boy replied video games, she showed him how to make a square box look like a TV on his card.
Kindergarten teacher Stephanie Hudnall said the project has been a work in progress since January. Loomis worked with the pupils in small groups, showing them how to type and use “pixie,” a software program for kids that allows them to create digital artwork.
“Then we bring them here to do it as a group,” she said.
“Mrs. Loomis is fantastic,” Hudnall said. “She has patience; she’s energetic. There’s never a ‘no,’ and if there is a ‘no,’ well, it’s ‘we’ll just figure it out.’ ”
Though a DODEA award probably doesn’t mean much to the kindergartners, they seemed to agree that Loomis is special.
“She’s very cool,” said kindergartner Sean Simpkins.
“And she lets us use computers,” classmate Michael Hamlett said.