Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS) teacher Donna Gradel was named Oklahoma’s 2018 Teacher of the Year by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister at today’s ceremony in Oklahoma City. She is the third Broken Arrow teacher to be honored since 1955.
“A professional like Donna Gradel has the choice of any career possible, yet she has chosen to dedicate her life to educating students in Broken Arrow,” BAPS Superintendent Dr. Janet Dunlop said. “Her passion, wit and intelligence inspires students to believe in themselves and to know they are capable of changing the world. There is no better person to represent public education in the state of Oklahoma and beyond.”
Gradel, a graduate of West Virginia University, has taught science at Broken Arrow High School (BAHS) for 21 years. She specializes in utilizing differentiated instruction to teach biology, environmental science and advanced placement courses. It’s in these classes where she integrates real-world problems into yearlong projects for her students. The most recent project aimed at supplying clean water and food for orphans in Kenya.
Last April, Gradel was named Broken Arrow’s Teacher of the Year for her innovative teaching style. Three months later, she was named as one of 12 finalists for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). Of those 12 finalists, Gradel was chosen as Oklahoma’s winner by a panel of educators, members of the business community, legislators and nonprofit partners after an intensive evaluation and interview process.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said Gradel's commitment to teaching has translated into positive change well beyond the Broken Arrow district.
"Donna understands the true potential of each of her students," said Hofmeister. "She differentiates instruction to meet the needs of each individual, challenges them to solve real-world problems, then goes one step further by modeling opportunities to implement their innovations to make a difference in the lives of people in Oklahoma and across the globe."
Gradel will remain in her classroom for the reminder of the school year. Starting July 1, 2018, she will serve as the Oklahoma Ambassador of Teaching, representing Oklahoma in the national competition by sharing knowledge and resources with fellow educators around the state and encouraging education as a profession.
“Mrs. Gradel is not only an amazing teacher, but she is also a positive example to students and adults alike. She truly believes everyone can make a difference in the world,” BAHS Principal Liz Burns said. “It is an honor to work alongside her, watching as she ignites a passion within her students for science and service through creative, life-changing projects.”
One of her projects that gained national attention was creating a low-cost, sustainable fish food for developing countries.
In 2014, Gradel and a group of students were awarded a $10,000 grant through the Lemelson Foundation and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her team was the first in Oklahoma to receive this grant and was one of only 15 in the nation.
“In addition to collaborating with engineering experts and prestigious inventors, my students applied curricular content, research, critical thinking skills and innovative design,” Gradel said. “They are discovering they can make a difference in the lives of those half-way around the world by utilizing their knowledge to solve a problem.”
In the summer of 2016, a group of Broken Arrow students traveled to Kenya to train the residents at a local orphanage on how to produce their own tilapia fish food, which was a protein-rich formula of indigenous, all-natural fish food made of a mealworm and algae mixture.
One of those students who traveled alongside Gradel was BAHS alumnus Jacob Taylor, who was also a National Merit Finalist and Presidential Scholar Semifinalist.
“Mrs. Gradel gave me direction and confidence in my abilities as a student, leader and servant in the world,” Taylor said. “I love sharing about how she has impacted my life in particular, but it is important to note that I can think of 30 other kids who could stand in the same place with more incredible stories to tell about her. She is truly a vanguard of education in this school and in the world.”