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QUINCY — As students took their seats in the bleachers and the pep band played, it felt like a homecoming rally.

But instead of cheering on the Red Raiders of North Quincy High School, students had gathered to thank their teachers for their hard work and dedication.

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, the 2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year was announced here Tuesday. The winner was kept secret, and speculation was running wild. But when Cara Pekarcik’s name was called, it didn’t come as a surprise.

“I apologize to anyone I had to lie to over the past few days,” said Pekarcik, a biology teacher. “Without a doubt, my biggest thanks goes to students here at North Quincy High. There is kindness, respect, and empathy in this group of students.”

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Kennex Lam, 17, said science had always been her weakest subject before she took Pekarcik’s class. At the start, she found cell biology “really confusing.” But Pekarcik would stay after school to tutor her, Lam said.

“She is never one to deny her students help,” Lam said.

Before becoming a teacher, Pekarcik had worked as a biologist, and students praised her ability to make biology seem fun and relevant.

“Everyday she makes the class interesting, she just brings it to life,” said Maria Zraizaa, 16. “She actually cares about people, and you can tell that she cares about what you do. She’s just so passionate about everything.”

Talia Viera, 16, said Pekarcik made her look forward to science class, something she didn’t think likely.

“I used to not like science as much, but now it’s not one of the classes I go to just to get it over with,” she said. “I go and I actually enjoy being there. She really makes what we learn interesting.”

Elizabeth DiMattio, 17, who took Pekarcik’s class last year, said she often turned to Pekarcik for guidance.

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“There was one time I was absolutely freaking out about an essay, she just sat me down and was like ‘You need to calm down.’ She guided me through it,” DiMattio said.

After the assembly, Pekarcik said she was thrilled by the honor. She said she often tells her students they can take an interest in science without being an expert.


Maddie Kilgannon can be reached at maddie.kilgannon@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaddieKilgannon.