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Massachusetts Paraeducator Awarded National Honor

Nancy Burke engages students with school garden, wins Bammy Award

WASHINGTON - September 28, 2015 -

Special education paraeducator Nancy Burke is now a national 2015 Bammy Laureate award winner for going above and beyond to engage her students and improve school climate. Her winning efforts include a recent project, where Burke, her students, and local volunteers worked under her leadership to build an outdoor learning lab for the nearly 30 students in the school’s program for students with special needs. Bammys are cross-discipline awards presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences that recognize the contributions of educators across the field of public education.

Burke was one of five Bammy finalists announced earlier this year. She learned of her victory at a watching party attended by family members, Haverhill High colleagues and union supporters. Nancy was interviewed live via Skype during Saturday’s ceremony. She will receive a 9-lb, 12-inch Bammy statuette signifying the various disciplines and support groups that make up the education village -- all of which are essential to successfully educating our children.

Nearly two years ago, Burke asked permission to build raised garden beds in a vacant interior school courtyard. With an $800 grant from the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association, Burke and her colleagues, assisted by students in general education classes and several local Eagle Scouts, built raised garden beds, benches and a ramp for wheelchair accessibility. The raised beds were critical because the students in wheelchairs would not have been able to participate fully with in-ground gardens.

In addition to growing healthy foods for the students to eat, the garden serves as a learning lab, a therapeutic garden and a safe and relaxing space where Burke’s students can get fresh air and connect with nature. Students learn life skills by preparing the food they grow in a special kitchen in the school’s special education department. For video of Nancy, her students and their garden, please click here.

Burke is the first paraeducator to be honored with a Bammy Award. For more than 16 years, she has taught in the multi-support and life skills programs at Haverhill High School, where her work has garnered state and national attention. She and her students have grown a “salsa garden,” which features a variety of peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, and a “stew garden” full of carrots, onions and many different types of potatoes.

“It is a powerful learning tool for educating the whole child. School gardens create enthusiasm for learning, encourage healthy eating and foster team-building skills,” Burke says. She uses the garden to encourage students to be creative, collaborate and apply critical thinking skills.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia congratulated Burke in a video message aired during the Bammy ceremony, along with other NEA-member nominees. “Thank you for all you do—for working so hard. We’re all so proud of you.”

For photos of Nancy, her students, their garden and the watch party, please click here.

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at

CONTACT: Sara Robertson