Cape Henlopen School District's 2019 Teacher of the Year inspires his students to follow their dreams.
"I push my students to have big, unbelievable dreams because that's how you achieve big, unbelievable dreams," said ninth-grade science teacher Robert Harrod.
Harrod is now one of 19 teachers vying for Delaware Teacher of the Year, to be announced in the fall.
"I'm still wondering how it happened," he laughed. "I hope to win and bring the recognition to Cape and Sussex County."
Cape High Principal Nikki Miller wasn't surprised Harrod received top honors.
"Mr. Harrod is the kind of teacher who doesn't look for recognition but 100 percent deserves it," she said. "He is caring, inspiring and believes his students are capable of anything. He engages students in lessons that force them into critical thinking while having fun at the same time.
"Mr. Harrod is the perfect representation of what makes Cape great! We look forward to the state portion of the competition because in my opinion there is no one better."
Early in the school year, Harrod contacts his students' parents to form relationships.
"Parental involvement is the No. 1 key to success for students," he said.
Harrod calls Cape High's science department a model for the state, crediting department Co-chair Carrie Evick with introducing the statewide science and global issues curriculum first piloted by Cape teachers. Students explore the effects of human behavior on the global and local environment.
When not teaching, Harrod keeps busy as an AVID teacher coordinator, and Class of 2018 and Interact Club advisor. The first in his family to graduate from college, Harrod readies students for careers or college through assignments that strengthen reading, writing and speaking skills. Student work and college pennants line the walls of his room to emphasize their importance.
"I see myself in the kids. Every kid is different, and every kid matters. I like to motivate and get to know them and what makes them tick to help them be successful," he said. "Every kid needs a champion. Setting high expectations and telling them when they've done a good job can lead to success."
A Louisiana native, Harrod graduated from Louisiana State University with a communications degree. He spent his early career as a TV weatherman and newspaper reporter when he met his wife, Camilla, a traveling occupational therapist from Finland. When she accepted a contract job at the Sussex Consortium, they moved to Lewes.
Harrod initially thought he'd work in TV, but his wife's successful work with children prompted him to enroll at Wilmington University. After graduating in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in education, he landed a long-term sub position at Cape and was hired full time the next year.
In 2016, he received his master of curriculum and instruction from American College of Education, and he may pursue another master's degree in English Language Learning to meet the needs of his Hispanic students.
Harrod's love for science has inspired his son, James, a member of Cape High's state championship robotics team, who heads to Batten Honors College at Virginia Wesleyan University this fall.
"Many people helped me become who I am," Harrod said, citing a teacher he partners with, Ben Evick. "I work with a great group of teachers, and our principal gives us a lot of leeway to try and do new things. We have a 'can-do' attitude around here, and it's really cool. Kids can detect your passion, and if they know you care, you can encourage them to do anything."