St. Paul schools claimed three of 10 finalists competing for 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, including Megan Hall who won the honor and a $6,000 prize on Sunday.

Hall, who has taught science for 11 years in St. Paul public schools, was chosen from 135 teachers from around the state in the contest’s 49th year. She and other finalists learned she was the winner at a banquet at the Minneapolis Marriot Northwest in Brooklyn Park. Her reaction?

“Absolute shock and wonder and gratitude,” said Hall, who lives in St. Paul. She teaches at Open World Learning Community, a 300-student school based on the Outward Bound experiential model.

Hall, 34, is the third teacher in the St. Paul School District to win the award, which is sponsored by Education Minnesota, the state teachers union. Candidates include prekindergarten through 12th-grade teachers from public, private and parochial schools.

Four Minnesota teachers, the last in 1996, have gone on to become the National Teacher of the Year.

Standing before a packed banquet hall, Hall thanked her family and colleagues and gushed about her students, in grades 7 to 12.

“My students have shown me that soulful delight and remarkable achievement can go hand in hand,” Hall said. “My students are funny and kind and curious and insightful.”

One of them, eighth-grader Sienna Leone-Getten, 13, said she nominated her teacher, who “really deserves it.”

Sienna said it was fun learning science from Hall because she “incorporates a lot of hands-on stuff … There’s very little textbook stuff and a lot of hands-on labs.” For example, in a biology class, Sienna said, she made mock cells out of Jell-O, peaches, blueberries and peppermint candies.

Sienna attended the awards ceremony with her dad, teacher Tim Leone-Getten, who works with Hall.

“As a colleague, she is always pushing me to do my best. She sets such high standards for her kids. I try to keep up with her,” he said. “She is inspirational, incredibly joyful and hardworking.”

Hall said she was a pre-med student at Macalester College, where she had a great science professor who inspired her to go into education.

She also was motivated by volunteering to teach music at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Minneapolis while she was in college.

She said that the children were trying to overcome difficult backgrounds to learn and that she felt that she’d seen how to make the nation a fairer place by helping such kids conquer the achievement gap.

“We believe in liberty and justice for all in this country, but we don’t have it yet,” she said.

“Teaching is one of the best ways to achieve that dream by opening the doors to higher education that ends poverty.”