Laura Shelton’s classroom at Benjamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy in Suitland is filled with colorful signs and science projects, but the Prince George’s County Teacher of the Year said she found her calling in a very different place — Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va.
“I saw some young men who were never going home,” said Shelton, 45, of Suitland of the nearly seven years she spent working as a correctional officer for the Virginia Department of Corrections. “It was a life-changing experience.”
Shelton said she decided to become a teacher because she wanted to reach children before they have a chance to make bad decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, and she realized middle school is a turning point for many young people.
“I would rather be able to affect change at this age,” Shelton said. “I try to get to know my kids. I interact with them on a personal level.”
Shelton, who learned she was named Teacher of the Year on May 1, was nominated by the school community, said principal Patricia Payne.
“I was excited and happy to learn that she won. I’m very proud,” Payne said. “She represents the highest level of professional commitment.”
Shelton, who has a bachelor’s degree in science from Longwood University in Farmville, Va. and a master’s degree in education from National Louis University in McLean, Va., has been teaching in county schools for the past 15 years.
Shelton has taught eighth-grade science for the past four years at Foulois. Shelton said she has challenged her students to use their problem-solving skills with invention assignments that fit within the guidelines of the nationwide Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, initiative, with an added emphasis on the arts.
Among this year’s inventions, Shelton mentioned a phone charger a student built with batteries and wires and a roll-on butter stick made by another student who packed butter inside an empty tube of glue.
“I would buy that,” Shelton said. “The kids have been coming up with functional household products.”
Anna Taylor, a social studies teacher at the school, said she supported Shelton’s nomination because of all her contributions to the school and the students’ education, including leading trips to New York every other year, where she has taught children about how the city was built and taken them to Broadway shows.
“A lot of students have a preconceived notion about science,” Taylor said. “She gives them that chance to see things in a different light.”
Next, Shelton will compete with Teachers of the Year throughout Maryland for the state title. The state winner will be announced in October.
“I was humbled,” Shelton said of receiving the honor. “Where I am is because of all the influences that have been sewn into my life.”