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North Guilford resident Geralyn Nelson’s 3rd-grade classroom in East Haven is so engaging, she was selected as Teacher of the Year for 2019. (Photo courtesy of Geralyn Nelson )
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When Geralyn Nelson and her husband John were deciding on a place to live and raise their children, Guilford seemed an ideal spot.
Twenty-four years later, their instincts proved correct.
“It’s a cozy, charming town,” Geralyn says. “We live in an area that is very scenic.”
From the blue jays and cardinals that visit her feeders in the backyard of her North Guilford home to the bustle of the shops along main street and different activities in town, Geralyn has always felt “I have the best of both worlds.”
Nestled in a home below a popular hiking spot on the Mattabesett Trail, Geralyn and her family have made hiking Bluff Head a family tradition.
“Being in nature, being with our family and taking in the view…is a lot of fun,” Geralyn says.
In addition to its picturesque landscape, Geralyn has appreciated the town as a good source of community.
“It’s been a beautiful place to raise my children,” Geralyn says. “They were connected to the community, which brought me a connection to the community. It’s very supportive of families.”
Long-time members of St. George’s church, Geralyn taught Christian education classes there when her children, Tyler and Taryn, were young.
For their youth sports leagues, Geralyn volunteered as a team coordinator while her husband coached.
“I would be organizing snacks for the kids, notifying parents of games, when there were changes in the times of practice,” Geralyn says. “It was [about] keeping an open conversation with parents and families.”
One year, when her son was in 5th grade, Geralyn remembers organizing tailgating parties for the team’s away games.
“It really brought a big comradery to the group,” Geralyn says. “It was a very supportive, fun group…Everyone enjoyed it.”
When it came time for her son to graduate from Guilford High School, she organized project graduation, an all-night celebration for the 2013 graduates. The year prior, she organized the chaperones for the project.
Although she had a lot of responsibility for both events, she’s quick to point out, “I’m a worker bee, but [they were] a success because of so many people helping.”
Geralyn’s understanding of the importance of collaboration is a philosophy that extends into her professional career as well, as a 3rd-grade teacher at East Haven Academy.
“I am the teacher that I am today because of all the teachers I have had and all the teachers I have worked with,” Geralyn says. “It is my 27th year in the [East Haven] district and I have had amazing support. It’s nice to be part of a great team.”
In her classroom, Geralyn fosters a “community of learning [with] a teacher establishing a relationship with each child…help[ing] the students to give their best efforts and [to] take pride in their learning each day.”
For these reasons, and more, Geralyn was named East Haven Teacher of the Year this spring.
She was recently honored at a Dec. 10 East Haven Board of Education meeting for being a nominee to the state finalist competition for Connecticut Teacher of the Year, having attended an award ceremony at the Bushnell on Dec. 4.
For Geralyn, the opportunity to meet other finalists at the performance hall was a highlight of the evening.
“It was exciting to be a part of the program,” Geralyn says. “It’s a fun night to celebrate teaching and teachers and education.”
Geralyn is a graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, earning a master of science in education in 1992 and a sixth-year degree in education leadership certificate in 2000.
Geralyn started her teaching career in 1993 as a 3rd-grade teacher at Overbrook Elementary School in East Haven.
In her tenure, she has held positions at various grade levels and taught various subjects in different schools throughout the East Haven school district. When an opening in third grade at East Haven Academy became available, Geralyn jumped at the opportunity.
“I came back full circle,” Geralyn says. “It’s been amazing to do that.”
As a teacher, Geralyn says she is “helping students hone their strengths and persevere” when faced with challenges.
She aims to celebrate both success and mistakes in her classroom, as she says, “both are [an] opportunity for a child to learn.”
Although her curriculum might be the same as other 3rd grade teachers, her approach is fun and “hands-on,” as she describes it.
One example includes gathering her students in the auditorium to make human arrays, so “they know 3 rows of 4 are 12…and this is how it looks,” she says.
In science, her students are building operational carts.
“That is exciting for me to see…their wheels churning every step of the way,” she says.
In addition to teaching, Geralyn acts as a mentor to new teachers through the state’s Department of Education Teacher Education And Mentoring (TEAM) program.
Geralyn enjoys nurturing the talents of young teachers and sharing in the successes of the more tenured.
“I have the best job in the world,” Geralyn says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
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