November 29, 2006 - The science teacher hurriedly fixed her hair before the bell rang and summoned two dozen 14-year-olds to her classroom.

Kristin Bourguet has an impeccable sense of time, appearing rushed yet completely in control while directing a class of freshman boys and girls.

"She's so busy she has to do her hair at school," science department Chairman Dan Gapp said while passing by Bourguet's classroom, a room slightly off the beaten path from the center of the Marana High School campus.

Bourguet teaches in the last classroom of the science wing at the edge of the school property. Students only can reach campus amenities - classes, food, lockers - by turning right out of the classroom.

The somewhat isolated classroom has become the site for many a student's mastering of basic science curriculum. A quick glance at Bourguet's grade book for her first period class reveals all As for a recent assignment.

"She's got kids that are successful in her classes that aren't successful in any of their other classes," noted Bourguet's boss, Principal Jim Doty.

The Arizona Educational Foundation recently named Bourguet the best teacher in Arizona.

"I was blown away," Bourguet said. "Pretty shocked."

The 29-year-old teacher settled into her lesson on acids and bases one morning last week wearing a turtle neck and thick black-rimmed glasses. She looks like the classic teacher, and her students mostly behave in the way of children in video footage of a 1950s classroom - rapt and polite.

Only once did chatter interrupt the teacher, who immediately ended it. "Stop, look and listen," Bourguet said, standing in the middle of her students, who followed the three instructions.

Outside the classroom door on the sidewalk, Bourguet and her students made a "larger-than-life" pH scale on yellow butcher paper. The teacher and her assistant, Joseph Boehm, stood on each end of the long strip of paper to keep it from blowing away as students dropped note cards in the appropriate places.

The cards contained items like baking soda, black coffee and caviar, the latter two being acidic with pH balances below seven. Even bread falls on the acidic side of the pH scale, Bourguet informed her surprised students. Human blood and shrimp fall right in the middle, neither acids nor bases but neutral, she added.

Back in the classroom, the teacher asked about soda, an acid. She asked those who believed it a base to raise their hands. Two boys hesitated. Bourguet noticed them.

"Go ahead, raise your hand," she said. "It's OK if you're wrong. It's at the end (of the chapter) when we have to be right."

Bourguet has taught at MHS for six years. She previously taught for two years at a high school in Baton Rogue, La., where during a field trip to Arkansas she introduced a group of white students to black students for the first time.

Bourguet's mother taught third grade. Her father taught until the measly pay could not support his family. He became an engineer.

A native of Tucson, Bourguet graduated from MHS and went to the University of Arizona, where all three of her younger siblings currently take classes.

"She's a product of this school, as well as an integral part of what goes on here," Doty said.

The key to Bourguet's success lies in her desire for everyone to succeed, said MHS language arts teacher Beth Cirzan, a finalist for the teacher of the year award last year. Bourguet sat in Cirzan's class more than a decade ago.

"She always demonstrated empathy for all her peers," said Cirzan, who called Bourguet "an exemplary" student. "I am honored to have worked with her as a teacher but I am most excited at what I now learn from her as a colleague."

As part of the teacher of the year competition, Bourguet submitted a video on which students, parents and colleagues attest to the teacher's effectiveness.

"She's always helping you out," said freshman Tyler Starr.

"She's not only a great teacher but a great person as well," senior Megan Bryant said. "You never see her around campus without a smile on her face."

Bourguet also coaches swim and tennis for the high school. About half of her male students play on the freshman football team. Bourguet taught them about atoms using an "if an atom were a football stadium" analogy.

The relationships she forms with her students directly affect performance in the classroom and the mutual respect between student and teacher, Doty said.

Last week, a sad-looking student moped into the classroom to Bourguet's calls of "I've missed you." She pulled the student aside and in a whisper invited him to have lunch in her room to get a crash course in the chemistry lessons he missed while struggling with illness, a death in the family and finding a reliable ride to school.

"The problems that he is facing are overwhelming for him, and my room is a safe space for him," Bourguet later said, adding that she also invited the student to after-school tutoring sessions around Thanksgiving to give him a shot at getting back on track.

Bourguet will compete for the Naitonal Teacher of the Year recognition but already has received a myriad of perks for being named the best in state.

She received $20,000, a laptop computer and a chance to meet President George W. Bush. She also received an interactive white board for her classroom and a projector. The latter will replace Bourguet's worn projector, which has an ever-present blob of changing color during note-taking sessions.

Bourguet calls it the "ball of love."

The next lesson for Bourguet's freshmen comes in the form of physics, a seemingly dry practice of solving problems with a lot of numbers.

"I force physics to be fun," the teacher promised. She mentioned something about making rockets in class, to which a couple of students in the back of the class responded, "Sweet."

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