Students thought they were being called to the auditorium the day before Halloween for a “hologram assembly.” When they walked into the darkened room, they were so busy marveling at the neon ghosts and flickering lightning bolts projected onto the walls that they didn’t seem to notice the band of light coming from underneath the curtain on the stage, or the high heels and Oxford shoes of the grownups waiting there to give a big announcement.
The announcement was that Margaret “Meg” Cypress, a fifth-grade teacher at Bradley International School in Denver, had been named the 2019 Colorado Teacher of the Year.
It was a surprise to Cypress, too, who had been instructed to sit nearest the stage with her class. When the lights came on and Cypress saw the folding chairs full of dignitaries, including the state education commissioner and the district superintendent, she began to smile.
“Her principal told us she is like gravity: Everybody gets caught in her,” Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said in announcing Cypress had won the annual contest.
Anthes ticked off other reasons Cypress was chosen, too, including her ability to infuse her lessons with fun and her efforts to organize events such as science nights and summer camps that bring families into the school and help raise money for supplies.
Cypress’s fifth-graders erupted with squeals, and began hugging each other and jumping up and down in the aisle. One of them started a chant as she walked up to accept a bouquet of flowers and an oversized $5,000 check: “Miss Cy-press! Miss Cy-press!”
As winner, Cypress will be Colorado’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year award. She will also be recognized by the president at the White House, have a chance to attend a NASA space camp, and join a cabinet of teachers who advise the state education commissioner.
Ten-year-old Eponine McBoat said she’d been looking forward to having Cypress in fifth grade for years. “She has these crazy projects,” Eponine said.
“If we do anything, we do a big project that goes with it,” she added.
For instance, the class is currently doing a unit on the economy. Each student has a job — banker, reporter, recycler — and a cardboard storefront, which Cypress painted and students decorated. Students earn money for doing their jobs, and they can earn extra money if they come in before school to practice math with Cypress. Anyone who earns more than $2,000 by the end of the unit gets to go to Cypress’s house for dinner and a movie.
“We learn so much, but it’s so fun,” said Stefan Fry, 9, who is also in her class.
By the end of the assembly, Cypress had collected five bouquets of flowers, three oversized checks, and a cooler full of ice cream from the universities, organizations, and local businesses (including a creamery) that sponsor the Teacher of the Year award.
One bouquet came from the girls on the Thomas Jefferson High School volleyball team, which Cypress helped coach. Each showed up carrying a giant cardboard cutout of Cypress’s head.
“She’s an amazing coach and an amazing teacher,” one girl said. “We love you, Meg!”
Cypress kept her remarks short, knowing that dismissal was nearing and school buses would soon pull up outside. After the students left, Cypress, who’s taught at Bradley for 15 years, sat in the quiet auditorium and said she has the best job in the world.
Her teaching philosophy, she said, is “to plan big, fun projects so the kids don’t know I’m pushing them hard. If kids are excited to be at school, I’m going to connect with them.”