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On Oct. 18, North Branford High School (NBHS) science teacher Lauren Danner won a nationwide media contest seeking an inspirational teacher like the character in the new movie Here Comes the Boom. The prize includes $10,000 to help bolster extra-curricular programs.
Lauren's only in her third year of teaching, a second science career for this North Branford native. The NBHS Class of '93 grad thanks NBHS junior Steve Fontenault, Jr., for entering her in the contest.
"I had him for two years in a row," says Lauren, who teaches science and biology to freshmen and sophomores. "I try to form strong bonds with all of my students, but I really get to form strong bonds with the ones I have for two years."
Fontenault didn't let on he'd submitted a 140-word entry to the teen.com contest until a few weeks ago.
"He came up to me after school and said, 'I submitted your name for an online contest,'" recalls Lauren, who told him, "That's so sweet!
"I thought it was going to going to end there, but then he said, 'Wait, there's more-I was just notified you've been selected as a finalist!' "
A flurry of checks and balances, school administration and district approval followed; then the fan frenzy began. Voters had five days to support the contest's three finalists. Email blasts and news stories ensued to help push Lauren to the top.
"I felt like it was American Idol for teachers!" says Lauren, laughing. "Most of my kids were so positive. Being a scientist, I did my research on the other teachers and districts, which were huge-in Florida and Texas. I thought, can little North Branford really do it? Part of me was hoping, but I was also trying to be realistic."
Then, on Oct. 18 at noon, word came: Lauren won.
"I was shocked. I was on my way to lunch and as I was leaving my classroom a student was careening around a corner, by which I mean she was traveling at a very high rate of speed, saying 'You won!' Twenty or 30 people crowded into my room?everyone was high-fiving and hugging."
Lauren brought the news to the principal and assistant principal. A cafeteria announcement was made to cheers and chants of "Dan-ner! Dan-ner!"
"It was quite a scene," says Lauren. "I am so very grateful to Steven and for the outpouring of love and support. It's been unbelievable and amazing. It speaks for us as a town and a community and beyond."
Married to her high school sweetheart Adam Danner, and mom to two North Branford elementary school students, Lauren credits her own North Branford science teachers, grades 8 through high school, with inspiring her to pursue science.
"I was a teaching assistant in college [UConn] and scientist for 10 years at Curagen. I would help new employees, show them what I did. A few of them actually said, 'Have you ever thought about teaching?' I would have been comfortable as a scientist, but I decided to take a risk and go back to school."
Inspiring students to take risks is part of Lauren's teaching philosophy.
"The number one most important step to fostering positive performance is creating a positive environment. I tell them they're a member of a scientific community here," says Lauren, who teaches in the same room where she took her first NBHS science class.
Students are empowered to give opinions, share what they know and ask questions.
"If you can engage them in things they know, then you can spark connecting interests. I use a ton of real world examples. I'm that crazy teacher that has dances to act out states of matter?for phase changes last week, I added electricity to a pickle to get it to glow. When I teach biology, I tell them, we're living examples of biology-you already know so much about science! My job, as a teacher, is to bring that out of them."