At last Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, Dr. William McKersie, Superintendent of Schools, stood at the podium in order to acknowledge science teacher Andrew Bramante’s recognition as "Greenwich Teacher of the Year," but then surprised the audience by informing them that Bramante has decided not to enter the statewide competition.
Regarding his decision not to enter the state competition, Bramante says that he spent this past July in a "daze" grappling with what to do. He said it was "apparent" to him what is most important; his passion to teach science to kids.
When Bramante took the microphone, he demonstrated how emotional the decision was, but the bottom line for the educator was “not to lose time in the classroom.” Linda Le Breton, whose son Stephen is a senior in the Independent Science Research class Bramante teachers, nominated him for Greenwich Distinguished Teacher last spring. "Mr. Bramante's decision to place his students ahead of his opportunity for further recognition is simply one more example of his above and beyond dedication to his students," said Le Breton.
GHS Headmaster Chris Winters echoed the sentiment expressing praise and respect for Bramante's decision. "Andy struggled with a choice between his desire to represent all GPS teachers as their "Teacher of the Year" in the state process and his passion for meeting the demands of his current students. In deciding to remove himself from the state process, Andy demonstrated why he was selected as a Greenwich Distinguished Teacher; he placed his won recognition second to the learning of his students. It is an admirable action from a truly committed and driven teacher."
A Look Back
For Andrew Bramante, working in the private sector "ran its course."
Bramante was in the right place at the right time running into then Greenwich High School science teacher Ray Hamilton at an American Chemical Society Meeting. Hamilton, who was teaching Independent Science Research, was looking to retire and Bramante was ready for a change. Little did he know then that the change in careers to teaching would lead to such personal and professional successes.
Last spring, Bramante was one of six Greenwich teachers selected as a Distinguished Teacher. Then in June, Superintendent Roger Lulow chose Bramante as "Greenwich Teacher of the Year" and the town's representative in the State of Connecticut competition. But Bramante continues to show that he often chooses paths to success much different than the norm.
Stumbling into Teaching
After graduating from Fordham in 1984 with a degree in Chemistry and needing to work, Bramante drove a UPS truck for the summer. Then in September, he landed an interview with a "flavor and fragrance" company. Bramante is still amused by the experience describing it as being asked to "sniff" four different bottles and identify which two were the same. His identification was successful and he was hired then finding himself concocting everything from "hot chocolate to peach schnapps."
"You had to taste everything you made," he said, in order to prepare it for a panel, joking that there were days he stumbled around.
Following that stint and receiving a M.S. in Chemistry, Bramante started a career as an equipment and design engineer and product specialist "traveling the world on someone else's dime" for companies such as Hitachi, PerkinElmer and Foxboro from 1987 to 2005. Then came the fateful meeting with Hamilton and Bramante’s decision to move from the private sector and enter the teaching profession.
“Science doesn't happen in a six block schedule”
The highlight of Bramante’s teaching is the Independent Science Research course at GHS. Now beginning only his eighth year as a teacher at GHS, Bramante started teaching Chemistry, but after one year, Hamilton retired and Bramante began his Independent Science Research journey, which he describes as "emotional" one as it is clearly become more than a job or a profession — it is his calling.
The Independent Science Research class started with two sections and has grown in popularity over the years that today there are three sections at GHS with approximately 16-18 students per class. The six-block elective class, previously opened to only sophomores and higher, now includes freshmen starting this year. Bramante says that about a 1/3 of his students are seniors.
Bramante states that there are other high schools in Fairfield County that offer Independent Science Research courses, but in those cases, the students are expected to find their own mentors out in the industries. The Greenwich difference is that Bramante is that mentor to roughly 50 budding scientists each school year, which over the years has lead to him having "hundreds of nieces and nephews." Getting involved with his students, Bramante is known for working with them on weekends and over February break.
"I don't know Monday from Tuesday from Wednesday"
The only challenge that Bramante seems to encounter is "time management" calling the school year "a roller coaster" in which he puts in a real "effort to keep up."
The Siemens Intel Science Fair occurs in the fall, with his seniors applying by October 1. The ISTS Intel Science Search runs from August through mid- November and again for only seniors. Then come college applications, which unsurprisingly, Bramante is often tapped to pen recommendations. The science fair "season" runs full steam from March-May.
“Why I am doing what I am doing"
One of Bramante's gifts is his connectedness with his students and their work. "You set expectations low," he advises, "and you get what you ask for." He informs his students that this is a "college-like course" and approaches his students like "adults" until they "give me some reason not to."
The students are inspired by "Mr. B" who says their ideas are not informed by "adult biases," but are constraint free in terms of scope. The nuance with research, according to Bramante is that "it is really on you." Of the process of a science project, Bramante tells his students "you have a story to tell" encouraging them to "connect" through the "highest effort regardless of success."
And success seems to come to Bramante's students who have won at least one of the top four prizes at the Connecticut Science Fair for each of the past six years, as well as first place and "Best of Category" awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project Olympiad, the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology, and the Intel Science Talent Search.
In fact, Ryota Ishizuka, one of his seniors from last year who now attends Harvard University, was just named one the top 10 high school inventors in the country by Popular Science magazine. Ishizuka’s invention, flexible solar cells, was created “using only tools from his high school’s science lab.” That would be Room 932 at Greenwich High School.
"I can't imagine doing anything else"
Andy Bramante is as humble as he is impressive. During his introduction of Bramante at last week’s Board meeting, McKersie recognized his “contagious energy” and “unmatched technical expertise.” Mr. B’s passion for science inquiry has inspired his students to delve into “rigorous and sophisticated topics,” in turn parents have continued to “thank” Andy for his guidance and support.
Not surprisingly, his response to the gratitude is, “You have no idea how much this town, the students and parents have enriched my life.”