PROVIDENCE — Mathematics can be a very difficult subject, so it’s important to have a teacher like Andrew Brassard to help alleviate fears and offer simple solutions to complex problems.
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The popular middle-school educator, respected by his students and esteemed by his colleagues, is committed to promoting Catholic values while helping his students achieve success, whether it’s in the classroom solving difficult algebra problems or in the gymnasium trying to outmaneuver the opposing team during a basketball game.
Brassard will be honored with the 2011 National Catholic Education Association’s “Distinguished Teacher of the Year” award next month in New Orleans during the annual NCEA conference.
In a letter to Brassard, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin wrote: “Being one of only twelve elementary school teachers in the United States so honored for the 2010-2011 school year is an outstanding achievement. This achievement is not only a mark of distinction for you, but is also an honor for St. Augustine School and the Diocese of Providence.”
The letter was presented to Brassard during the annual diocesan Catholic Educators’ Symposium held Monday in Warwick.
“Mr. Brassard is an exceptional Catholic school teacher,” said St. Augustine School Principal Kathleen Morry, who nominated the educator for the prestigious award. “He is a man of deep faith who practices the teachings of the Catholic Church on a daily basis. His faith is exhibited through his interaction with students, parents and peers. I would be remiss not to mention that he is an excellent mathematics teacher.”
Decorated with posters and banners with sayings such as “Attitudes are contagious: Is yours worth catching?” and “The expert in anything was once a beginner,” the classroom offers a reflection of a teacher who always encourages his students to strive for success.
“If you are having trouble and you want help, he’ll stop what he’s doing and help you,” said Michelle Conca, a grade 7 student. “He’s a good teacher and he cares for us individually.”
Brassard, an alumnus of St. Augustine School, Class of 1985, graduated four years later from Our Lady of Providence High School, where he was a member of the last graduating class. After receiving a degree in business from Providence College, he worked in private industry for two years, but decided to change careers after experiencing success as a both a parish CYO basketball coach at St. Augustine and a Little League coach in North Providence.
“I enjoyed coaching, and thought about teaching,” Brassard recalled, adding that he enrolled at Rhode Island College, and earned a master’s degree in elementary education in 1997.
“I felt I could do more as a teacher,” he added.
While he was offered two teaching positions in Catholic schools after completing graduate studies, Brassard chose to return to his alma mater where he began as a third grade teacher. After spending several years in the lower grades, the acclaimed educator moved up to the middle school, where he serves as a mathematics teacher and assists the principal with administrative duties.
“I really haven’t gone very far,” he laughed, noting the short distance between all the schools and colleges where he has matriculated.
“For some reason God wants me here,” Brassard continued, adding that he met his wife Amy, a former teacher at St. Pius V School, Providence, several years ago during a professional day held at St. Augustine School. “I just trust in his plan.”
Noting that his wife is now a stay-at-home mom, Brassard emphasized that the couple’s strong Catholic upbringing and deeply-rooted faith have strongly influenced their personal and professional lives.
The Brassards are the proud parents of two daughters, Elyse, age 3; and Leah, age 1.
“We want to bring up our daughters the same way,” he said.
While mathematics is a factual subject and offers little opportunity for opinion, Brassard promotes strong values, such as respect and love of God, in the classroom and leads by example.
“Values have to be part of your life and everything you do,” he said.
Cameron Clift, an eighth grader who will attend Bishop Hendricken High School in the fall, admitted, “math is hard.”
“He gives good notes and a lot of examples,” Clift said of his award-winning teacher. “Mr. Brassard has helped me to understand math, he’s made it a little easier.”
Anna Styborski, a 30-year veteran at St. Augustine, didn’t teach Brassard but remembers him as a student in the school and watched him mature as a longtime friend of her sons Joe and Billy.
“He’s practically a member of our family,” she said fondly of her colleague. “He expects the children to behave and to excel. He’s a good Catholic young man.”