Debbie Gerwick, a fourth-grade teacher at Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center in the 109, was named a finalist for District Teacher of the Year at a recognition dinner held at the Will Rogers Memorial  Center.

“My philosophy is that if you create the right kind of environment with kids that really anything is possible,” she said.

Gerwick teaches science, language arts, and social studies at Alice Carlson, but she said her passion has and will always be science.

“Debbie’s really sharp about finding those moments where there’s an opportunity for learning,” said Jeannie Robinson, the principal at Alice Carlson.

Gerwick is also incredibly innovative in how she makes learning happen, Robinson said.

Robinson said Gerwick once received an educational grant and used it to buy rocket kits for each student in the class. She led each child through the construction of a rocket and coordinated parent volunteers to help with launch day. Gerwick used the excitement of the moment to teach students how to calculate the apex of their rocket, allowing them to quantify the results of their work, Robinson said.

“Debbie is a person who has a wide view. She’s always looking at the individual child to see what they need,” she said. “They know she cares about them, so they want to please her. They want to show her they’re learning what she’s teaching.”

For the past few years, Gerwick has had students participate in the Smart Potatoes program. The potatoes the school grows are stored at a satellite food bank located at a nearby church, she said. The program is put on by REAL School Gardens, an organization that installs learning gardens in low-income areas.

“We grow and harvest the potatoes and then take them there, so that they have fresh potatoes for people coming through for food,” she said.

Gerwick is also the coordinator for the garden at Alice Carlson. The garden is located in the back of the school’s playground, and on top of teaching students valuable gardening skills it has received a Beauty Award, Robinson said.

Last year, Gerwick’s class created  tools using slats from old blinds to assist younger students in measuring their plants, Robinson said.

Gerwick said what she loves most about teaching is working with the kids and watching them grow.

“Every once in a while I’ll think to myself, maybe I should start thinking about retiring,” she said. "And my husband says to me, 'You know, Debbie, you’ll never be able to really give it up. It’s going to take a really big event.'"

“And he’s right," she said. "Because for me, the kids are what it’s really all about."