LA CONNER, Wash. — There is a certain chemistry in Madison Huscher's seventh-grade science class.
"She just...she's pretty cool," says student Emmalin Goodman, with a laugh.
Huscher, 24, has a unique style of teaching that her students at La Conner Middle School respond to.
"We just have random conversations with her," says Emmalin. "They could be about something going on at home. They could be boy problems. She talks to us about everything."
There are no grades in Madison's class. Students are judged by their proficiency in the subject matter.
And learning is as much about life as it is about the curriculum.
"We're not trying to help students learn how to memorize, especially with Google at their fingertips, it really doesn't matter if you know how many electrons are in carbon. What matters is you know how to take care of yourself, be curious and be lifelong learners."
Approximately 35% of Madison's students are Native American. Half live at or below the poverty line.
Madison incorporates culture and everyday skills into her teaching.
She routinely takes her kids rock climbing and recently brought them on a nine-mile backpacking trip to Olympic National Park.
"Getting away from technology is really important for students these days," Madison says. "It's about their resilience. They grow so much while climbing. When they come into the classroom they believe in themselves more."
Madison is now one of just nine finalists for Washington Teacher of The Year.
But to her students, she has already won.
"She doesn't talk at us, she talks to us," says Emmalin. "She understands our needs. She cares about us."
"I really think education is the greatest tool anyone can have," Huscher said. "I just want to be here to support the kids and show them how awesome life is and how awesome learning is."