A second-grade teacher at Ames Elementary School is the state's Veterans of Foreign Wars Elementary Teacher of the Year, and now advances to the national competition. Students and staff recognized Sarah Nelson at a surprise school assembly and celebration Monday.

Nominated by Randall-Collins VFW Post 3108 in Belfast for her outstanding commitment to teaching Americanism and patriotism to her students, Nelson was named district Elementary Teacher of the Year in November 2018. She then moved on to the state competition.

"We are in uncharted territory here," Belfast VFW Operations Manager Jim Roberts said Monday. "It's the first time ever a teacher nominated by our post has advanced this far."

The state Elementary Teacher of the Year award was officially presented to Nelson Jan. 12 at a VFW awards banquet in Bangor. Nelson now will compete for the national award in Washington, D.C.

At the national event, the top three teachers in the nation are named VFW National Teacher of the Year at three levels, elementary, middle school and high school, with each one receiving $1,000 for professional development and $1,000 for their school, plus an all-expense-paid trip to the convention in July.

Nelson said she taught her students the importance of activities such as pledging allegiance to the flag every morning, volunteering in their communities, supporting veterans' outreach programs and making cards for soldiers and veterans thanking them for their service.

"I am honored and unbelievably flattered to receive this award," Nelson said. "Our partnership with the VFW post has given us the opportunity to practice patriotism at a high level.

"We are a small country school with a huge heart." 

On hand for the festivities were Superintendent of Regional School Unit 71 Mary Alice McLean and three-war veteran Carmine Pecorelli of Belfast.