D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the Department of Public Works had posed as if they were coming to teach Foster’s class about fall leaf collection. Dozens of Public Works employees stood behind Bowser, with rakes in their hands, as she spoke to the children about how they could compost pumpkins left over from Halloween.
Then Bowser pivoted — and revealed Foster’s win.
“We’ve heard from the principal about how remarkable Ms. Foster is as a teacher,” Bowser said as she presented Foster with the award. “In fact, he’s described her as ‘a shining beacon of educational excellence’ and that she instills a love of learning in her students at an early age.”
No D.C. teacher has won the national honor since 2005. Alejandro Diasgranados — a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Aiton Elementary School — was one of four finalists for the 2021 award in May.
Foster has taught at the charter school for the past six years and has 13 years of experience as an educator overall. She started teaching at Howard Road Academy Public Charter School, in Ward 8, and since has taught kindergarten at two other Friendship Public Charter School campuses in addition to Blow Pierce, Bowser’s office said in a news release.
Foster was visibly stunned Thursday when the honor was announced. She slowly got up out of her seat, then turned to realize that her friends and daughter were also in the audience to celebrate.
“I don’t know how y’all found out, but I love you,” she told them.
As she accepted the award, Foster thanked her work colleagues, particularly acknowledging Principal Gregory Spears for “all your support.”
“I love Friendship,” she said. “ … The resources you all provide is why our children really excel.”
When the coronavirus put in-person instruction on pause, Foster worked closely with community members to keep students engaged, Spears said. Foster brought in guest speakers, such as poet Nikki Giovanni and former D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray, so students could still engage with the community.
“Working with some of our youngest scholars, you really have to find creative ways to bring them in and engage them in the learning, and that’s never a question as you walk through her space,” Spears said in an interview.
Foster was involved in committees and teams within the charter’s network that focused on navigating learning amid the pandemic. In her D.C. Teacher of the Year application, she described being an educator while schools were closed as a “formidable task,” but wrote that it became “a life-changing experience we, as a class community, will cherish forever.”
“My belief in making learning an experience transcended the traditional classroom setting and we discovered how to bring joy into learning on a virtual platform,” Foster wrote in her application.
In addition to the $7,500 prize, Foster received $2,500 to support travel to national conferences, workshops and other opportunities during her term as D.C. Teacher of the Year.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education named two other teachers as finalists for the award: Takeisha Wilson, a fourth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Shepherd Elementary School, and Rickita Perry Taylor, who teaches students with disabilities and medical difficulties at Turner Elementary School. Both Wilson and Taylor received $1,500 prizes.