Inside Room 202 at Central Cass, 2020 North Dakota Teacher of the Year finalist Jessica Brandt sums up everything you need to know about her philosophy.

“Well, these kids are everything to me,” Brandt said.

Brandt has always wanted to be a teacher. Her mom’s best friend was her first grade teacher — her inspiration for being in the classroom. And for a short time her parents both worked at her small-town school.

“So I could bring home all these supplies and extra desks, and I had an entire classroom setup in my basement where I was able to practice my passion before I actually was able to do it in real life,” Brandt said.

A Title 1 reading teacher working with fourth through sixth grade students, Brandt helps raise students’ reading levels and develop a love of language.

“I think the most important thing is that they learn to believe in themselves and have confidence because a lot of their issues are just — they have no confidence and they haven’t been successful and they’re trying to read books that are just above their level,” Brandt said. “So to find them interesting, good-fit books at their level and see that enjoyment and that growth begin.”

Brandt is known for going the extra mile—attending concerts and games and opening her classroom at lunch for visits.

She’s has worked at Central Cass since 2007, learning that relationships are the foundation for growth and success in the classroom.

One student, in particular, stands out.

“After I kind of started building that relationship, I could get her to work, which was not happening in other classrooms,” Brandt said. “I fed her breakfast most mornings because she usually didn’t have food, and even if she did have food. If that’s what it took to get her to work, it’s not going to hurt me to give her a little breakfast. And so we just built that relationship, and she made these huge strides and huge gains because she felt that relationship with me. And everyday when she would leave me, she would give me a hug, and she’d say, ‘I love you Mrs. Brandt.'”

Connection is one of Miss Brandt’s three C’s, including collaboration and change, that set the foundation for a successful learning environment.

“It’s amazing what kids can do when you really give them a challenge. And I guess I just live my dream through teaching every day. It’s what I do and I love,” Brandt said.