‘Change agent’ chosen as Columbia County’s top teacher

Crystal McDowell believes she was born to be in the classroom. It’s the place where she thrives.

On Oct. 4, the Greenbrier High School teacher was named the Columbia County Teacher of the Year at a banquet at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

“I became an educator because as a student, education was really important to me. It was my safe place. School was the place I could go to, and it clicked with me,” said McDowell who teaches AP Biology, Biology, Human Anatomy & Physiology and Genetics. “But I also saw a need for change. As a person who loves science, I wanted to go in there, and I wanted to do it a different way. It’s been said I decided to become an educator to become a change agent.”

McDowell seeks to light a spark that ignites the same creativity and curiosity her students had as young children to inspire them to desire to learn.

Read More: Laney science teacher named Richmond County Teacher of the Year

She came into education when other programs such as STEM and inquiry-based learning were coming into the forefront, but once she got into the classroom with her students, she found her own “sweet spot” in working and learning alongside them.

 “Something comes alive in me that is incredible,” she said.

Greenbrier principal Chip Fulmer can attest to McDowell’s passion for teaching and for doing things out of the box.

“If you work behind the scenes with her, you know that she is the real deal,” he said. “She doesn’t let curriculum get in her way. She takes it and runs with it.”

Crystal McDowell teaches at Greenbrier High School. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

 And she brings in resources that engage the students which is not always an easy thing to do with teenagers, he added.

McDowell said she discovers what interests her students and by knowing them, she can engage with them.

Not only is she Columbia County’s Teacher of the Year for 2024, but she’s received several accolades this year.

She was one of three finalists for the National Science Teacher Association Shell National Science Teacher Award and she is a Georgia finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

 “McDowell creates a learning environment that promotes collaboration, fosters critical thinking, and provides students the opportunity to experience how scientists think and what scientists do to better understand the natural world and our role in it. Lisa Guilbeau, Greenbrier High School Former Assistant Principal, says that ‘Mrs. McDowell is bright, passionate, compassionate, funny, and a talented teacher. Her work ethic is outstanding, and she is considered a powerhouse in the field of science at Greenbrier High School and in the Columbia County School District,’” according to the National Science Teacher Association website when highlighting the Shell winner and finalists.

At the banquet, school district officials honored all the teachers of the year from each school. Each teacher will receive a cash direct deposit and other gifts.

The other finalists for the award included Brook Andrews of Stallings Island Middle School, Cassandra Rodriguez, Evans High School, Allison Dixon, Greenbrier Elementary School and Jennifer Roper, River Ridge Elementary School.

The finalists received additional gifts, and as the teacher of the year, McDowell will have a one-year lease on a 2023 BMW X-1.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News. And you don’t have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!