C ara Pekarcik is the 2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year because she was in the right place at the right time. Sort of.
Pekarcik already had a very good reputation as
a dynamic teacher who had a knack for engaging
students in the study of science.
But her involvement in an educational
expedition to Antarctica and the way she shared that
unique experience with students and colleagues back
at North Quincy High School really highlighted her
teaching gifts right when nominations were due for
the statewide honor.
In 2016, Pekarcik, a member of the Quincy
Education Association, participated in the
Polar TREC program, joining a team of other
educators and scientists on an icebreaker that served
as a floating laboratory in the Southern Ocean.
Over the course of the six weeks she spent on
the expedition — which overlapped with the start of
her 11th year as a teacher — Pekarcik kept a journal
that her students and other school staff could read
online, and she was able to have a video of her at
work live-streamed to the high school’s auditorium.
She stayed in touch with her own students, whom
she had yet to meet, and crafted assignments that
took advantage of her unique “classroom.”
When Pekarcik returned to her normal duties,
high school Principal Robert Shaw sat in on a couple
of her classes.
“Basically, I saw how different it was — what
she brought to the staff, to the students and to the
community,” Shaw said. “I was looking for a way
to recognize that and remembered QEA President
Allison Cox saying to me that Cara’s work might
make her a good candidate for Teacher of the Year.”
Cox said that Pekarcik demonstrates the passion
that public school educators bring to their work.
“Cara was willing to travel halfway around
the world to enhance her own knowledge. And she
is able to share that experience in such a way that
everyone she connects with benefits from it,” Cox
told MTA Today. “We are very fortunate in Quincy to
have Cara and so many other wonderful, dedicated
educators who provide high-quality instruction and
are great role models for our students each and every
I n May, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that Pekarcik had won the honor, staging a presentation
ceremony with students and colleagues at her school.
Pekarcik was also honored at the State House.
“I don’t see this as being the greatest teacher, but
the award conveys that I represent great teaching,”
Pekarcik said during an interview over the summer.
“Believe me, I never claimed to be the best or perfect
or someone who doesn’t make a mistake.”
Still, some may find it remarkable that someone
who did not originally set out to be a teacher is
now recognized as an outstanding representative
of the profession. Pekarcik grew up in Western
P ekarcik knows that many of the students she teaches will not end up in fields where they need to directly apply the scientific knowledge
she imparts. But she does see immense value in using
a science curriculum to teach students how to grow
confident in forming and sharing their own views.
“The most important thing I can do is to
encourage my students to explore,” she said. “I have
a number of students who, through our writing and
our projects, come out of their shell. They tell me,
‘I’m not going to be a scientist, but science is cool.’”
Science teacher Cara
Pekarcik, the 2018
of the Year, worked
with freshman and
during an honors-
level biology class at
North Quincy High
School recently as the
an experiment to
understand how the
body regulates its vital
North Quincy High
reflects her passion for
Photos by Scott McLennan