BELFAST –  Briana Brennick, a second grade teacher at Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, was honored Feb. 5 at Darby’s Restaurant with a celebration luncheon after being chosen to compete at the national level for Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year.

Officials of VFW Randall Collins Post 3108 in Belfast also announced the student winners of the Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy essay contests at the Saturday event.

From left are VFW State Commander of Maine Herman Littlefield Jr., Belfast Area High School senior and winner of the Voice of Democracy essay Gabriel Bruns and VFW Commander of District 6 Christopher Armstrong at Darby’s Feb. 5. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Belfast Area High School senior Gabriel Bruns was the Voice of Democracy essay winner, and Isabella Kocak, an eighth grade student at Coastal Christian School in Waldoboro, won the Patriot’s Pen award.

Jim Roberts, VFW Post 3108 operations manager, said Brennick had been named the post’s Teacher of the Year back on Veterans Day, and then went on to win the district title. “We found out she also won State of Maine Elementary Teacher of the Year, and now have discovered she is the sole representative (from Maine) moving on to the national level for VFW Teacher of the Year,” he said.

Herman Littlefield Jr., left, Isabella Kocak, 8th grader at Coastal Christian school in Waldoboro, and Christopher Armstrong, VFW commander of district 6, at Darby’s Restaurant Feb. 5. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Each year the VFW selects elementary, middle and high school teachers to participate in the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher program. The award program, established in 1999 and named after former VFW National Commander John Smart and retired VFW Quartermaster General Larry Maher, recognizes the nation’s top teachers for their exceptional commitment to teaching Americanism and patriotism by promoting civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism in the classroom.

The middle and high school teachers nominated, Roberts said, were not associated with the Belfast post. Four years ago, Sarah Nelson, also a second grade teacher at Ames at the time, was named the VFW Teacher of the Year. She advanced to the nationals, but did not clinch the top award.

At rear from left, VFW Operations Manager Jim Roberts, Keith and Briana Brennick and Capt. Bill Bruns, U.S. Air Guard, along with Brennick’s second grade class at Ames Elementary in Searsmont Dec. 17, 2021. Courtesy of Briana Brennick.

On the local level, the judging was done by a panel of five or six people, Roberts said, and Brennick’s credentials consisted of supporting VFW efforts for a number of years, “consistently and without hesitation.”

Some of Brennnick’s activities on behalf of the VFW include organizing an effort to place flags at Grove Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend, inviting VFW members to volunteer for Field Day activities at school, as well as teaching her students to respect and honor the flag and our veterans, Roberts said.

Ames second grade teacher Briana Brennick stands with her husband, Keith, in her classroom after receiving VFW Post 3108’s Teacher of the Year award Dec. 17, 2021. Brennick’s parents and sister joined the event virtually. Photo courtesy of Briana Brennick.

“She is an outstanding teacher, a superb person, and a great ally,” Roberts said. “We at the VFW are honored to have her be such a positive impact in our school and in our community.”

Brennick said her students are “very excited” about the competition, especially after the initial presentation in December of last year at Ames School. For that event, she said, her husband was able to participate in person, while her parents and sister joined virtually.  

“My students see it as a big deal and have marked the date for our ‘banquet’ on our classroom calendar,” she said. All nominees for the National Citizenship Education Teacher program were submitted by Feb. 1, and Brennick was not sure when winners would be announced.

“I feel very honored to be recognized for my accomplishments and leadership, but it is truly for the kids and our community,” she said. “Our partnership with the VFW has given children great opportunities to be involved and to learn the values of respect, empathy and patriotism, all while honoring those who have served and are currently serving.  

“I’ve especially enjoyed inviting local veterans into our school to read and participate in school-wide activities, organizing the Hygiene for Heroes program and The Great Candy Challenge, as well as sending cards to local veterans and troops overseas. I am excited for what this next step may bring for our school and the VFW.”

Lori Smail, principal of Ames and Weymouth schools, said she was “extremely proud” that two of her teachers from Ames Elementary School had received this award. 

“Mrs. Brennick is an exceptional educator who goes above and beyond in her teaching duties as well as integrating our community into the school,” she said. “She is passionate about all aspects of teaching and learning.

“Mrs. Brennick never backs away from a challenge,” Smail said. “If she sees a barrier, she finds a way to break it down and solve the problem, always with a positive attitude.”