By Barry Matulaitis, Staff Editor
JAY — “As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher,” said Spruce Mountain High School (SMHS) math teacher Jessica Ellingwood, the 2018 Franklin County Teacher of the Year.
Recently, she was named one of the 16 Maine finalists for Maine Teacher of the Year by the Maine Department of Education. One teacher from each of the state’s 16 counties was chosen from many applicants.
“I was pretty surprised,” said Ellingwood when asked of her reaction to receiving the honor. “I knew I was in the running. I was very excited that Sunday afternoon when I was notified.”
Growing up, she attended schools in Wilton and then Mt. Blue High School. As she furthered her education, she witnessed the ability a teacher has to have a lifelong impact on their students.
“I wanted to provide a classroom that was nurturing and supportive,” said Ellingwood. “I had amazing educators and great coaches.”
One of those that stood out was Mt. Blue High School teacher Dan Ryder, who was teaching English at the time.
“He was very supportive when I said I wanted to get into education,” said Ellingwood. “He pushed me. He was a great standout high school teacher.”
After graduating from Mt. Blue, Ellingwood attended the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). There, she earned a degree in elementary education, with a math concentration. While at UMF, she student taught 5th and 6th graders at Jay Middle School with the late Kellee Fortier.
“After I graduated from UMF, my very first teaching job was in Vermont at Job Corps,” noted Ellingwood. “I had students older than me. I realized I really enjoyed teaching older students.”
She took additional classes to be certified for teaching at the high school level. Ellingwood earned her Masters degree in curriculum and math instruction by taking online classes from the University of Phoenix.
From 2006-2013, Ellingwood taught at Rangeley Lakes Regional School. She was also assistant girls basketball coach to Heidi Deery.
“Heidi was an incredible mentor for athletics, and encouraged you to push yourself to have high standards,” said Ellingwood.
She moved along with her husband and children to Farmington in 2013, and a few months later started teaching at SMHS. There, she met another influential mentor, longtime math teacher Annette Girardin.
Ellingwood observed that Girardin’s classes had “a lot of rigor, and the pacing of her class, she would cover a lot of material. I could not come close to the number of hours she spent tutoring and helping students outside of school.”
She added that she was also impressed with the impact that teacher Anne Weatherbee had on students, particularly with the drama program.
Ellingwood teaches Advanced Placement statistics, college preparatory statistics, senior math, and general geometry.
“It’s kind of an eclectic group,” she said.
By teaching different levels of students, Ellingwood is able to witness their transformation from tentative underclassmen to confident seniors.
“All of a sudden, they see these skills are applicable when they leave high school,” she said. “It’s that ‘ah hah!’ moment for them.”
Another challenge she has taken on at SMHS is that of National Honor Society advisor. “That’s wonderful, getting to work with students out in the community,” said Ellingwood.
Cross-country running is another one of her passions. Ellingwood ran in middle school, high school, and college, and now coaches it at SMHS. She said there are some lessons students learn from sports and other extra-curricular activities that can’t necessarily be taught in the classroom.
“It’s your reaction to setbacks, goal setting, communication with coaches and teammates,” Ellingwood said. “From sports, to the arts and music, extra-curricular activities are vital to a student’s education.”