Amanda Newmes of Roscoe has taught high school science in the Belvidere school district for 17 years, the past 10 at Belvidere North. Though she had initially planned to be a doctor, she came to the conclusion that medical school was not for her and set an appointment with an advisor to guide her to a different path. To her surprise, he told her that he was glad her previous plan didn’t work out! But he went a step further by telling her, “You have a gift of communicating with people. You help others before you help yourself. Your talent would not be used in the medical field; you need to be a teacher.” After teaching a lesson at the advisor’s son’s school, she knew he was right. David Carson, assistant superintendent of Belvidere Community Unit School District 100 says, “Amanda is a bold teacher who seeks to deeply transform each of her students as well as the system in which she teaches. I have seen her not only talk about desired changes in education with her colleagues, but live and model the changes we should make to provide a high quality education for all of our students.” Areas in which Amanda has been at the front of innovation in the school and the district include flexible seating, blended learning classes and standards-based grading. Amanda says, “Just scraping by is not an option in my class. I will push each student to challenge themselves and find the confidence to try something new.” She encourages student ownership, which results in better student engagement. An example of how she helps students discover their passions and ways to act on them comes from her biology class. Each student was asked to write down something they had always wanted to build, study or create. She meets with each student individually to guide them to the resources they need to accomplish the project they desire, then they take it from there. She is more a facilitator than the focus in her classes. By design. “I do not want to grade 30 of the same project. But how powerful is it for students to see inspired, passion-filled projects that are student choice? Students do not want vanilla ice cream every day they come to class. That gets old and redundant. Instead, I try to provide the 31 flavors and let them choose the toppings to mix up learning so that it is exciting and students do not even notice that they are learning.“ A former student who nominated Amanda shared: “She instills the love of learning in each and every one of her students, and pushes them to achieve whatever goal they want in life. I now work professionally in the medical field and I know this would not be possible without her help.” Another student shared a three-page letter of recommendation for Amanda, full of examples of how she supports and encourages her students in and out of the classroom. “She is doing great things for the community, the school district and the life of her students. You can see that in her work, her projects, her achievements, and in her family. But mostly, you can see it in her students.” To Amanda, “it is [her] students who continuously provide me with passion, motivation, and energy to make each day an epic day”!