Spotlight: Anna Norviel Attebury (ID '22)April 10, 2023
First grade teacher Anna Norviel Attebury (ID ’22) uses her after-school STEM club to introduce students to the concept of teamwork: “It can be challenging to share ideas rather than just getting to do things their own way.” She received her Milken Award at White Pine Elementary in Ammon on November 30, 2022.
Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Anna Norviel Attebury (ID ’22): They are such joyful learners. They are still young and fresh and ready to do amazing things. I love seeing them figure out new concepts and realize how powerful they are. They have great questions, and when I don’t know the answer, we research together. They are passionate about the world and learning everything they can.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Anna: I like to say I took the long way around. When I started college, I studied English education (inspired by one of my high school English teachers) for a couple of years. However, at the time I was passionate about politics. I changed my major and got my degree in political science. After graduation, I started volunteering at my boys’ school and quickly was offered a job as a paraprofessional. It was amazing. I got sucked into the students and teaching and never left. About a year later I began working on my teaching certification.
MFF: Tell us about your after-school STEM club.
Anna: We always begin the year learning how to collaborate within teams. For some students it’s a new concept. It can be challenging to share ideas rather than just getting to do things their own way. Each team member has a role. For example, only the Inquirer is allowed to ask me questions or for guidance, and the Manager leads the team.
We work with drones. We learn to fly them, as you would drive a remote-control car. Then we learn to code them. Last year we made a coded choreography and created a video for an Earth Day competition on renewable energies. This year I was able to get my hands on a couple of 3D printers. We’ve spent some time learning about the practical uses for them, including on the International Space Station. My students want to use the printers to build a prototype for a design they are creating to prevent coral bleaching. Next year we will enter the design into a statewide competition to combat the effects of climate change.
MFF: As your school’s Core Knowledge (CK) coordinator, can you explain how it supports teachers’ practices and student learning at White Pine Elementary?
Anna: CK believes that all children need and deserve a rich and equitable education. They give teachers and parents open access to their curriculum and resources from preschool through eighth grade. Starting at a young age, students begin learning about big topics that build through their educational careers. For example, kindergarteners learn about the five senses, first graders learn about the body systems, and each grade after that students dive deeper into a specific system. This allows teachers to collaborate and students to teach each other. My first grade students built models of the human heart, then went and taught the fourth grade classes (who learn about the circulatory system) how the heart works using anatomical vocabulary.
CK is built on the idea that students need important foundational knowledge in order to be productive and meaningful members of our society. We learn about the first civilizations and what it takes to create a society. The amazing thing about CK is that the lessons can be fluid and are built around what students need. My students need a lot of hands-on STEM learning, so we learn through doing, researching and testing.
Every day, students have the opportunity to ask questions and discover new ideas. In September, we learned about atoms and their structure. Last month one of my students had a new question. She asked me, “How do atoms know what shape they are supposed to be?” That is what CK does for students. It opens their minds to ideas. I had never thought of that or even wondered, but you can bet we dropped everything to research that question immediately.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Anna: Alysa Trust was my teaching partner for five years and then became my vice principal. She has always been there to listen to my ideas and frustrations. I go to her for advice whenever I need help. She is an amazing educator who builds lasting relationships with her students. And Ashley Schmitt, who teaches kindergarten with a finesse I’m a little jealous of. She can get kids to do anything and believe they can do anything. My first grade team is also amazing. They’re so open to new ideas and innovations. They are great teachers and constantly work to be better.
MFF: How was your first year of teaching?
Anna: It was a little scary but very exciting. I had a wonderful class — I say that about all my classes, but it’s always true. There are so many memories, good and bad. One of my students punched another in the face during the second week of school. I was terrified! I survived that and still have a good relationship with that student.
My first year was fun because my school gives me freedom to try anything I think will help my students. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t, but I had that trust. It was frustrating starting with nothing except basic curriculum. Those first few years took so much work as I created things my students needed (intervention, acceleration, etc.). Through it all I had my partner Alysa. We spent a lot of time helping each other.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Anna: My mind went blank and I can’t remember much of what happened immediately after my name was called. I didn’t know what to say or do, and the cameras were everywhere! I think I was confused and remember asking someone if I was supposed to “go up there.” I remember saying “yeah” and nodding quite a bit. I was definitely surprised, and I still am. I work with so many educators who deserve this recognition.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Anna: My students were adorable first graders as always. I was told I should buy a mansion now that I’m rich. For them, it was all about the money. For my former students, it was different. Many stopped by and congratulated me or said I deserved it. That’s what really made it sink in for me — hearing from them that I had made a difference or helped them in some way.
MFF: Any plans for the $25,000?
Anna: I’m currently in school working on my master’s. I have one son in college and another soon to join him. The Award prize will definitely be used for education. Also, I have been dragging a hose around my extremely large yard every summer for 15 years, so I might splurge and finally get a sprinkler system.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Anna: Success for both students and me is when they push themselves, ask questions, or try something scary or hard or new, even if they fail. My classroom is full of failures, including mine. The key is perseverance. Success is also seeing the joy in their eyes as they do something they didn’t think they could do.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Anna: I hope they remember that learning is exciting and how interesting our world is. And that just because you can’t do something does not mean you never will — it just means you can’t do it yet.
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