Leah Boucher receives gifts and a balloon Wednesday from her fourth grade students on the last day of classes at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston. Boucher is the 2024 Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Leah Boucher of Farwell Elementary School was named the 2024 Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year, after a school year that had proved challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Boucher said when she told her parents she wanted to become a teacher, they encouraged her decision.

“They said ‘We will support you no matter what you do, but know that it’s hard work. At times, you’ll feel unrecognized,'” Boucher recalled. “What’s important is to remember the bright spots, which are your students.”

Many years after that conversation, recognition of Teacher of the Year has found Leah at the end of her sixth year of teaching.

As a young teacher, Boucher came to Lewiston in search of a place with a sense of community. She said she wanted to grow with her students.

“One of my first memories (at Farwell Elementary) was having students come in and greet me in over 10 different languages. They just wanted to say, ‘Hi, Ms. Boucher, I’m so-and-so, and I speak three languages. Can I greet you in them?’” she remembered.

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Boucher was able to incorporate that into her morning meetings, where students could teach her different sayings in their languages.

“That’s the type of community I wanted to be in, where we learn from and with each other. That’s what makes me love Lewiston,” she said.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 25, 2023, mass shooting, Boucher said she has found herself relying more and more on her community at Farwell and beyond.

On the night of the shooting, Leah was worried about her students.

“I remember hearing sirens nonstop for over two hours. My first thought was, are my students okay?” Boucher said.  “Within two hours, I knew that all 22 of mine were safe and at home and then I could breathe.”

Farwell Elementary did not have a guidance counselor at the beginning of the school year.

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Boucher wanted to help with the grief and the healing of her students. “I have a couple of friends who are guidance counselors in other districts. I reached out to them and said, ‘what resources and advice do you have for me?'” she said.

Community was quick to show up. “We had guidance counselors come from not only Lewiston, but all around the state to fill in the gaps,” Boucher said.

Later, a staff member at Farwell volunteered to undergo training for guidance counseling.

Boucher said she was surprised to find out a colleague had nominated her for the Androscoggin County Teacher of the Year award in early 2024. To move forward with her nomination, she had to undergo a rigorous application process.

“I was actually nominated in the previous year by a wonderful parent. I didn’t even make it past the first round. So I thought, oh my gosh, I don’t think that I’m going to do it this year,” she said.

However, Boucher’s fiancé, who is also a teacher, encouraged her to try again. “‘Don’t be afraid to be proud of yourself and write about the work that you’ve done,'” she recalled him saying.

Looking ahead, Boucher would like to continue her tradition of building relationships with her students at Farwell.

“One lesson that I’ve definitely taken away in my six years teaching is to make sure that you build relationships with your students first,” she said. “The academics will come, but if your students don’t feel like you know them and they know you, they are not going to be willing to learn very much.”

She has many good examples. “I’ve had students come into my room who were reading three grade levels behind. Because they felt a level of safety and comfort with me, they were able to ask me hard questions, ‘I’m really stuck in this area of reading, what can you help me do?’ And they’re now reading right on grade level,” Boucher said. “It is amazing to see that once you build the relationships, the academics come.”

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