Having heard about the accomplishments of Woodbury Earth Science Teacher Michele Brustolon, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) made an appearance at the school on Jan. 15 to meet the woman who one student called an "overnight celebrity."
A momentary spotlight has in fact shone on the 40-year-old Brustolon after she was invited to speak on the floor of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. on Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.
She was one of just three teachers chosen from 300 to present their findings at the iconic museum.
"The fact that you've got a teacher who not only is in the (science) field, but who has been recognized around the country for her achievements is really impressive," Shaheen said.
According to Brustolon, who formerly taught in Virginia before coming up to Salem nine years ago, it was her first trip in a while to the nation's capital. She made sure to bring back plenty of photographs for her students.
About 15 of those eighth graders circled around Shaheen, Brustolon and Principal Brad St. Laurent during the 25-minute discussion.
Shaheen asked Brustolon to talk in more detail about her trip that sparked the Smithsonian visit. In June 2010 Brustolon went aboard the Oscar Dyson ship as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Teacher at Sea program.
There Brustolon said she was living on a "floating city" in the Bering Sea for three weeks, looking at and surveying the walleye pollock population.
"This particular fish, we need to watch how much we are fishing because it's used so frequently, and so that was what our survey was," Brustolon said.
She explained that the idea was to both make sure that the populations are healthy and to identify whether overfishing is taking place.
Shaheen spoke about commercial fishermen and the challenges of overfishing cod.
"Having the kind of research that Ms. Brustolon has done to really be able to track the fishing stock to see where they're at is really important," Shaheen said.
While she went on the ship for the science, a big takeaway for Brustolon was the community aspect of the vessel.
"It's not about your background or where you're from, if you're good at something that's what makes the ship run," she said.
The ship featured a hodge-podge of crew, deckhands, survey technicians, fishermen and engineers. Some didn't graduate high school. Others had their Masters. Some were there doing bird surveys.
One student momentarily brought Brustolon to tears when she recognized the importance of the "working together" aspect that was created for her teacher on the ship.
Shaheen also quizzed the students on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects, telling the kids how many new jobs require skills in those areas.
The kids peppered Shaheen back with questions about both her job and her ties to the Granite State.
Asked what is next for Washington, D.C., Shaheen told the students that the fiscal issues are still a big challenge in the country despite the 11th hour, short-term deal reached in Congress just after 1 a.m. on New Year's Day.
Another of the kids asked Shaheen why she likes New Hampshire, and she couldn't help but be complimentary to the residents of the state.
"I think we're really blessed to have so many smart, creative people in the state," she said.
As one of those smart, creative residents, Brustolon is content with the spotlight serves while it serves as a benefit to her students.
"The bottom line is this is why we do it," she said of teaching. "It's a big opportunity for some of them to be exposed to this, to feel important."