Joyce Bruchey's colleagues say she does what every skilled classroom teacher knows how to do instinctively: She can look a student in the eye and help him see the good in himself -- and then search for the better.
But as Frederick County's only "enrichment" teacher, Bruchey does it a whole school at a time, showing children how to develop independent projects that stimulate thinking.
A teacher for 23 years and a pioneer in the county's program for gifted and talented students, Bruchey is one of the 15 teachers in the Washington area this year to win The Washington Post's Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.
Bruchey, a 45-year-old Emmitsburg, Md., native, is an unusually caring person "who routinely does the extra" and never talks down to anyone, including children, said Jerry Strum, her principal at Green Valley Elementary School.
"She lets you know she cares deeply" with "a real honesty," he said. "When you have that kind of interaction with people, you don't have many barriers."
Bruchey has been involved for the past year in a pilot effort in two contrasting elementary schools, based on the so-called Renzuilli techniques developed at the University of Connecticut, to challenge students with new interests.
The program recently was funded to expand to three other Frederick County schools next fall.
At Green Valley, near Monrovia in southern Frederick County, Bruchey creates activities for children who are ready to go beyond the regular class work. They are not specifically identified as "gifted and talented," a label Bruchey said can prove troubling.
She arranges for brown-bag lunch speakers in everything from ceramics to emergency-room work, scuba diving and horses. She devises unusual projects that help children explore problems.
A dozen fourth-graders at Green Valley, for example, have developed a 24-page booklet to help children learn more about their grandparents. Based on interviews with their own grandparents and other older people, the student-typed publication includes interview questions and is called a keepsake book. Three hundred copies are being distributed to other Green Valley students.
"Mrs. Bruchey made every day interesting . . . . There was never a dull moment," wrote Jedediah Scher, formerly of Green Valley and now a sixth-grader at West Frederick Middle School. "Whenever I get together with my old classmates, we always talk about her."
At Parkway Elementary in Frederick, 13 miles from Green Valley, Bruchey works with all students from the first to fifth grades, designing projects that will help them apply lessons to real life.
The other day, for example, she was helping a fourth-grade class with a mathematical exercise: figuring what standard of living they might have in Frederick on a beginning teacher's salary.
"We have a lot of students at risk of academic failure, and a lot of minority students," said Parkway Principal Tina Baker. When Bruchey organizes a project, students "just want to come," Baker said. "They don't want to miss it, ever." ABOUT THE AGNES MEYER AWARDS
The Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards are given by The Washington Post to recognize excellence in teaching and to encourage creative and quality instruction. Recipients, one from each school division in the region, are awarded $3,000. Each school system chooses its own winner based on nominations by colleagues, students, former students, parents, administrators or the public.