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Teacher of the Year addresses fellow educators at NEA convention

Washington science teacher says, ‘It is time for us to recognize that public education is succeeding’

ATLANTA - July 05, 2013 -

High school teacher Jeff Charbonneau is a man on a mission. He wants to make chemistry and physics and engineering—the “hard” sciences he teaches at Zillah High School in Zillah, Wash.—more accessible and more engaging for students. He does that by creating interactive learning experiences, like the Zillah Robot Challenge, to help students learn and develop confidence in their abilities.

This National Board Certified Teacher and 2013 National Teacher of the Year spoke today to nearly 9,000 fellow educators attending the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

“Education is not about the subjects in the books, web-pages or wiki-spaces. It is about the subjects in the seats,” said Charbonneau. “Our most important job is to develop positive relationships with students that foster an increase in their self-confidence and self-awareness.”

Charbonneau teaches in a district located in the Yakima Valley in rural Washington state where nearly half the students come from low-income families. The challenges are great, but Charbonneau says the students just fuel him to continue working to improve and adapt to a changing world.

“Jeff works hard to raise the confidence of his students, not just in science but in everything they do. He understands the importance of challenging and engaging his students,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

The Washington science teacher sets high expectations for all his students. Even in a school district where nearly half of the students come from low-income families and many qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“Rather than succumb to the notion that we are failing, we must celebrate the quality education that we are providing, while strengthening our resolve to further improve,” Charbonneau told his fellow educators. “Despite what we read in the paper, students and teachers across the nation are achieving in countless ways. It is time for us to recognize that public education is succeeding.”

At the 400-student Zillah High School, success can be seen in its 96 percent graduation rate. In fact, many of Charbonneau’s students are not only passing his classes and graduating—they’re also attending college.

“Boosting students’ knowledge, enthusiasm, and awareness of technology and science is vitally important to America’s future,” Van Roekel added. “We’re proud to have Jeff as an NEA member and leader who exemplifies the very best in teaching and leading the profession.”

Charbonneau founded the Zillah Robot Challenge to introduce students to robotics, but the program goes far beyond that initial goal. With a cadre of volunteer scientists and researchers, the Zillah Robot Challenge provides free, hands-on experiences in math and science to any interested student in the Greater Yakima Valley. The program has received $25,000 in grants and support from businesses.

Charbonneau has both a B.S. in Biology and a Masters of Education from Central Washington University. He serves as co-president of the Zillah Education Association and is a member of the Washington Education Association, as well as NEA.

WEA President Mary Lindquist says Charbonneau is “a great example of the well-qualified and dedicated educators we have in Washington. He is a leader in both the classroom and the teaching profession.”

Educators from across the country are in Atlanta through July 6 for the Association’s RA. The RA is the top decision-making body for the more than 3 million members of NEA. RA delegates set Association policy and address issues facing public schools, students, and the teaching profession.

For more information on NEA’s Representative Assembly under way in Atlanta, go to

Hi-res photos are available for download at

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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.


CONTACT: Miguel A. Gonzalez
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