‘Teacher of the Week’ makes science fun for Union Elementary School students

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SHALLOTTE, NC (WWAY) — A teacher at Union Elementary School in Shallotte is known for conducting experiments to make science lessons engaging for her fifth-grade students.

During our surprise visit to the Brunswick County school, Tara Cumbee’s students were learning about the water cycle.

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“As the water vapor rises, its joining the water droplets up in the sky and after it gets so heavy you’re going to see it start dropping,” Cumbee said.

A former student nominated Cumbee for WWAY’s ‘Teacher of the Week’ noting some of the cool experiments she does with students.

A UNCW graduate, Cumbee has been teaching 18 years. With all the protocols in place to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, Cumbee says the last several months have been extremely difficult for educators.

“As much as I would love to be positive, and say I love this job every single day, and I do, I really, really do, it doesn’t negate the fact that I go home exhausted,” Cumbee said.

She says one of the rewarding aspects of the job is hearing from former students about their academic and professional achievement.

“Reading an email from a former student that they’re being accepted into an engineering program, I’m thinking–wow! You know, everything that I’m doing, makes a difference,” she said.

Sam Jennings is the assistant principal of the school. He says Cumbee devotes lots of time both in and out of the classroom to provide instruction for her 28 students.

“Whether they’re stacked from the wall to the ceiling or not, its all about the kids,” Jennings said. “Engagement is the number one thing in Tara’s room, when you walk in the room, you know kids are going to be engaged in something.”

Union Elementary has 550 students. While most have been back in school for the last two months, about 70 are still learning remotely.

“Online learning is definitely a challenge,” Cumbee said.

She says not every home is an equal opportunity home. Some kids in Cumbee’s class don’t have a computer and depending on where they live, internet service may be spotty at best.

Jennings says the pandemic has made educators more aware of the socioeconomic challenges their students face during remote learning.

“I think Ms. Cumbee does a good job of making sure that kids get the exact same experience no matter where they come from,” and he added, “no matter who they are they’re going to get the same experience when they walk into her room.”

If a child needs something, Cumbee says, they’re not going to be able to learn.

“Those children who are coming to school, excited to learn, they almost fill your teacher bucket, you’re able to take that teacher bucket and you’re able to share it with some of those kids that have some extra needs,” she said.

Cumbee says she’s appreciative of WWAY’s recognition of her as our “Teacher of the Week.”

“Thank you so much for highlighting the challenges that we have in the school system and highlighting teachers and students because I think it benefits everybody to know what’s going on in the schools,” she said.

Click here if you would like to nominate someone for ‘Teacher of the Week.’ Each week’s winner receives a $100 gift card.