Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mandarin Oaks Teacher of Year Finalist 'Makes Learning Fun'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mandarin Oaks Teacher of Year Finalist 'Makes Learning Fun'

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

You could call it a champagne toast.

To Zachary Champagne, that is.

The youthful-looking math, science and social studies teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School is known for bringing fizz to his classroom. Those who've seen him in action talk about his enthusiastic and knowledgeable approach to the Rodney Dangerfield of subjects.

Champagne one of five finalists from a pool of 159 candidates for Duval County Teacher of the Year. The winner will be chosen at the Eddy Awards on Thursday, April 29, at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront.

"I try to be as energetic as possible," said Champagne, who teaches fourth-graders. "If I'm not, then they're not having fun. When they are enjoying themselves, they're going to learn more."

Make no mistake, though. The content is "very rigorous," he said. For instance, on a recent day, students were doing coordinate geometry in which they used a grid to locate their addresses.

Kellen Edwards, a 9-year-old gifted student, said Champagne is one of the best teachers he's had.

"If you don't get it one way, he'll find another way of showing it to you so that you can figure it out," he said. "He makes learning fun."

Champagne grew up in Orange Park and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education from the University of North Florida. He taught at West Jacksonville Elementary School for nine years. In 2006, he won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation's highest honor. The Beauclerc resident received $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and a citation, along with the other winners, from President George W. Bush at the White House.

"I've always absolutely loved school," Champagne said. "It's important to me to convey that to kids. I want to watch kids learn."

The 33-year-old is in his third year at Mandarin Oaks and praises faculty and Principal Patti Carson for their support.

Champagne has involved parents by assembling a math home tool kit that's available on a check-out basis. To get one, parents had to come to a 30- to 40-minute session on how to use the kit at home. …

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