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Regional Services & Education Center’s Bridgette Doucette-Howell in the Running for 2016 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year

Bridgette Doucette-Howell, a teacher at Regional Services and Education Academy, is one of eight finalists in the New Hampshire Department of Education’s 2016 NH Teacher of the Year award. Doucette-Howell, who is originally from Newton, New Hampshire, teaches history and social studies to students with special needs, and can personally relate to their challenges because she overcame a learning disability herself.

“When I was in eighth grade, I was told that I would never graduate from high school because I was too stupid,” said Doucette-Howell, who graduated in the top 12 percent of her high school class. “That only helped me by solidifying my determination to overcome my own disability – I have a hard time putting combinations of letters together – and understand that it is possible. And if people tell you it’s not, it’s because they just can’t see it.”

Bridgette Doucette-Howell

RSEC, a network of three schools, provides high quality educational and special needs focused programs and services to school districts in southern New Hampshire. Doucette-Howell has taught at RSEC for the last three years, joining after she launched a series of individualized afterschool programs and starting the Springboard After School program in Massachusetts. She began her college career expecting to major in theatre – a family tradition – but after working as a teaching assistant and discovering that performing wasn't for her, she added an additional emphasis of secondary education to her studies, earning a BA in theatre with an emphasis in musical theatre and secondary education. After working at Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth teaching and choreographing student productions, she attended the University of New Hampshire and earned a graduate degree in education.

“I am living proof that anyone can do anything they want, they just need to work hard,” she said. “If you give students the opportunity to relate education to their own experience and the real world, the impossible becomes possible.”
And that philosophy carries into her social studies classroom, where she strives to bring the past alive by inviting individuals with unique historical perspectives to talk about what students are reading in class. For example, when learning about Veteran’s Day, Doucette-Howell’s students heard from individuals ranging from combat veterans to retired military social workers.

“I like to make history as realistic as possible,” she said. “All of the sudden, students can put the content and philosophy into their own perspective and relate to their own experiences, making learning that much more enjoyable and memorable.”

In addition to her social studies curriculum, Doucette-Howell also spearheaded a school-wide, year-long art project involving theatre, visual arts, music, dance and slam poetry – outside of her regular teaching responsibilities. The program was her solution to provide arts programming in a school without a formal art teacher. Leaning on her theatre background, Doucette-Howell was able to jump in and find a way for students who needed an art credit to earn one, while creating a school-wide art initiative.

“Bridgette has an incredible amount of creativity, professionalism and ability to organize,” said Judy Koch, RSEC’s executive director. “Not only does that benefit her students, but she also helps parents who don’t understand their child’s potential by resetting their expectations and refusing to let them lower their standards because of their child’s learning disability or special need.”

After a round of site visits in early June, the finalist field will be narrowed from eight teachers to five. At that point, the remaining nominees will present an important local education issue to state legislators in Concord and submit a series of essays. The winner will be announced in October. Regardless of the outcome, however, Doucette-Howell – who was nominated for the award anonymously – is appreciative of how the award process has helped her grow as a teacher.

“The self-reflection component has made me reevaluate my own teaching practices, which is important because times change and you need to be able to change with them,” she said. “It is also great because there are so many excellent teachers in the state, and this highlights many of them.”

The winner of the NH Teacher of the Year award not only exemplifies leadership and excellence in education, but also serves as a representative of the state’s entire teaching profession, attending the national Teacher of the Year conference, addressing the state’s board of education, and a host of other opportunities for professional development while celebrating the many dedicated teachers in granite state schools.

For more about the NH Teacher of the Year program, visit education.nh.gov.

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