Tucked away in a red-brick lined hallway at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, a pocket of classrooms make up Project Vine, the school’s alternative education program.
In one such classroom is Danielle Charbonneau, who was recently named a finalist for the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year award.
Ms Charbonneau has been in secondary school since 2016 and is the head of the curriculum department and English teacher, she said in an interview with the Gazette earlier this week. Project Vine is a program based on character education and community building. Students enroll in the program and take English, history, and math lessons in classes of about 15 people, and go on field trips together. Teachers stay with their students year after year, which means Ms. Charbonneau teaches students from their freshman year through to graduation.
“He has this feeling of home base for a lot of [the students]said Ms. Charbonneau. “It’s hard to find that space for some people in a public school.”
As department head, Ms. Charbonneau wears many hats, she said. In addition to teaching four classes, she oversees the program application process, handles the occasional disciplinary situation, and attends any school meetings her students may have outside of the Project Vine program.
This year marks the second time Ms. Charbonneau has been nominated for the award. She was a semi-finalist in 2020, she said. The process is arduous. After being nominated, Ms. Charbonneau had to answer a list of essay questions and submit her curriculum vitae. Then, as part of the semi-final, she submitted a 20-minute video of herself teaching, answered more essay questions, and did an hour-long phone interview.
In the next step, representatives of the Department of Primary and Secondary Education will observe his teaching and conduct another interview. The winner will be announced in July.
“I’m excited. I can’t wait to see where this all goes,” she said of the process.
Ms. Charbonneau discovered teaching while working at CBS in New York, she said. She was assigned to teach a group of children how to use audio and visual equipment. Her colleagues saw it as hard work, but she loved it; it was the highlight of each week for her. Once that was over, Ms. Charbonneau knew she wanted to teach full time.
Project Vine has grown steadily under Ms. Charbonneau’s leadership. There are 44 students in the program and a waiting list to enter, she said. Much like the Great Resignation among adults across the country, Ms. Charbonneau believes the pandemic has caused students to reprioritize and pay more attention to their needs, which she attributes to the popularity of the program.
“I wish we had the space and the staff to allow anyone who is interested to at least try this model, but it also makes it feel like how special it is to be a part of it,” said she declared. Since Ms. Charbonneau teaches the same students for their four years, she likes to see their relationships deepen and evolve. She said it also makes her a better teacher because she has more time to understand how her students learn.
“I don’t think there is one instruction for everyone,” said Ms. Charbonneau. “And knowing a student very well and what they’re good at, what they’re always challenged with is kind of giving them the next step they need to take.”