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PBS honors teacher as ‘digital innovator’

Yeah, you could say every day is a lovely day in the neighborhood when you’re talking about Room 108 at Sandia Vista Elementary.

You might even find Fred Rogers’ biggest fan, first-grade teacher Michelle Garmon, wearing a cardigan sweater, like the late Rogers did on his PBS television show, which began airing in 1968. Rogers died in 2003 at the age of 74; by that time, he’d taped 895 shows.

“Mr. Rogers was always my neighbor,” said Garmon, who grew up on the coast of California, with her father in the U.S. Navy. “I was the new girl a lot.”

Teachers “run” in her family: A great-grandmother was a teacher in Oklahoma; a grandfather was a superintendent and, as a missionary, founded some schools; his wife and brothers were teachers; an uncle is a teacher; and a daughter has decided to be a teacher when she completes her studies at Central New Mexico Community College.

Once her fifth and final child began kindergarten, Garmon headed off to get her teaching degree; she’s in her 11th year, the last 10 at Sandia Vista Elementary. All five of her children are products of Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Garmon is a nationally honored PBS “Digital Innovator.” PBS’s Digital Innovators set the bar for thoughtful tech integration in the classroom, not defined by the gadgets they use, but by the unique way they approach education.

Last month, she participated in a panel, presenting ideas at the National Education Telecommunications Association’s annual conference. The topic: “A Champion for Early Learning: Our Greatest Role Yet,” being discussed before 400 people from PBS stations around the country, including KNME in Albuquerque.

There she was, explaining the ways in which she uses PBS Kids and technology in the classroom, giving real-world examples and sharing how watching Mister Rogers inspired her to be a teacher.

She’s also been nominated to be a PBS Digital All-Star.

You won’t find a chalk board in Room 108. She does have a white board, which she says, “is not a big TV; this is a tool.”

“I think it’s important to have cutting-edge technology in the classroom,” she said. “My kindergartners were coming in and telling me about YouTube videos.”

Sure, there’s still a place where students see what numbers 1-100 look like, as well as the alphabet, and try hard to stay within the lines while coloring.

And, Garmon said, despite the technology, “They still love running around at recess.”

Today’s students – at least, the 22 kids in Room 108 – “have instant knowledge. I teach children how to access the Internet safely. PBS has set up a safe site – it’s free and that’s good.”

And, based on all she does to be an “innovator,” PBS honored her as the state’s runner-up in 2016 and made her the state’s top digital innovator for 2017.

Enchanted Hills Elementary Principal Cathy Baehr oversaw her as a teacher for her first year in the district.

Garmon “has always had an ‘out of the box’ approach to making academics come alive in her classroom. She seeks to find resources to make her classroom have a life of its own,” Baehr said.

“Michelle’s classroom is a dream!” added Sandia Vista Principal Pat DiVasto said. “She has taken technology and made it fit into her curriculum in a way that students will remember for a lifetime. … Preparing lessons that are tech-based requires a lot of preparation, but she is passionate and loves what she does.”

There’s something else you won’t find in Room 108: Garmon raising her voice – she says she found lowering it or frowning is more effective.

She’s so happy-go-lucky, she says, “My husband tells me I smile in my sleep.”

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