GORHAM — Gorham Middle School teacher Heather Whitaker is Maine’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

The Maine Department of Education made the official announcement of the award Thursday morning at an assembly at the middle school. Deputy Commissioner Dan Chuhta presented the plaque to Whitaker along with a message from Commissioner Pender Makin.

Whitaker has taught in Gorham for 19 years. She is a co-founder of a backpack program in the school district ensuring students in need have food over weekends and vacations. She also started the middle school’s garden that has raised tons of produce for  the Gorham Food Pantry over 15 years.

Heather Whitaker, an alternative education teacher at Gorham Middle School, is congratulated by a student after being named the 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year at the school on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Robert Riley, the school’s retired principal who nominated Whitaker for the award, said Tuesday that her impact on students is immeasurable.

“She understands the definition of humanity and lives it,” Riley said in a telephone interview, adding that he was looking forward to attending the assembly for Whitaker. “She’s a very special person.”

A Department of Education press release about the award noted that Whitaker’s alternative education students are active volunteers in the backpack and gardening programs.

Heather Whitaker holds her own plaque while applauding the previous Teacher of the Year, Joseph Hennessey. Chance Viles/American Journal

“Whitaker is an advocate for and experienced in using restorative practices and experimental learning,” the release said. “She believes in the power of relationships and that learning should be meaningful to students.”

The Gorham School Department was recently awarded a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant, recognizing the backpack program and school garden. Some of the money will be earmarked to construct a greenhouse at the school.

Whitaker earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Boston College in 2000 and later a master’s degree in  literary education from the University of Southern Maine.

Whitaker and her husband, Marc, have a son, Trent, and a daughter, Maeve.

 


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