President Obama Welcomes top Science and Math Teachers to the White House

PAEMST 2014

President Barack Obama meets with Presidential award for excellence in math and science teaching winners in the East Room of the White House, March 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

For 101 of the Nation’s top science and math teachers, Monday was not your typical snow day. While DC-area students spent the day at home, the winners of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) trekked through the slushy streets of Washington to spend time with President Obama at the White House.

These outstanding teachers came from far and wide to be recognized for their tireless work to equip America’s students with the skills they need to grow into the next generation of innovators and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals.

This Presidential Award is the U.S. Government’s highest honor for K-12 math and science teachers. In December, President Obama announced this year’s 102 winners, who represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. These phenomenal educators were selected from a pool of more than 950 applicants by a distinguished panel of leaders in STEM education at both the state and national level.

Before meeting with President Obama, the teachers kicked off a three-day visit to Washington, DC, with a conversation about the future of STEM education in America with experts from the Department of Education, and participated in several professional development workshops with leaders from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Then, on Wednesday morning, the teachers received their award during a ceremony at the National Academies of Science.

While they were here at the White House, the awardees reflected upon what the PAEMST award means to them and to their students. Here’s what some of them had to say:

Melissa Romano (MT): Promoting math and science education is imperative in order to create a society of critical thinkers and problem solvers that are able and ready to succeed in many walks of life. The platform of this award will allow me to voice and share the amazing and arduous work my colleagues around the nation do every day. This award connects a group of amazing educators. As a math teacher, I love numbers, but I especially love that with the number of talented educators this award has brought together, we are also powerful: standing together – strong in our beliefs about math and science.

Elizabeth Miller (VA): Being a recipient of the PAEMST Award will allow me to help bring attention to the need for a strong foundation in science for all students. I am passionate about encouraging girls to embrace science in the world around them. Hopefully I will be able to use this award as a springboard for conversations about this topic at the local and state level.

Alma Suney Park (CA): Being here in D.C. is like receiving a strong, necessary gust of wind in my sail. I’m strengthened and inspired by all these teachers beside m; and I feel a tremendous boost knowing that the nation’s top office is committed to TEM, teachers, education, and our precious students.

Alysia Augustus (NE): Teaching is a never-ending learning process, and in applying for this award, I’ve learned a great deal about my teaching philosophy and practices. It has allowed me to become a better supporter and mentor for other educators. Meaningful and intentional math instruction is vital for all students at all grade levels. All students should feel successful in math.

Kent Page (TX): We know how to see all obstacles as opportunities. With this group, there is a chance to build bridges, coalitions, and lines of communication with so many with whom we share goals. It is true children are our future, but there is no more powerful force or change within a family right now than a motivated child. We are now better equipped and more inspired to prepare and motivate our little ones.

Jamie Garner (CA): Becoming a PAEMST awardee means that my voice as a teacher can be heard in a way it never was before. I now have the platform to promote the changes in STEM education that my colleagues and I dream about in the lunchroom and at the copy machine each day. I now have the opportunity to be the catalyst for change in education today.

Bryan Lake (IL): While the Presidential Award is an incredible honor for me and my dedication to teaching, I see it more as a validation and a celebration of the capabilities of my kindergarten students! In my mind, they are the real winners here and my constant motivation to keep growing, learning, and striving for excellence.

Stephanie Chlebus (VA): This award is a thank you to all of the hardworking teachers out there, including my mother who taught high school math and my older sister who teaches middle school math. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am without their guidance and support. They are the unsung heroes.

We also honor awardee and Oklahoma science teacher Diane Reece, who passed away in December. Her daughter, also a teacher, shared the following in remembrance of her mother:

My mother would be so excited and honored to accept this award on behalf of the many small schools in the nation. She devoted her life to creating a love of learning, research, and science inquiry in every kindergartener who walked in her class. She inspired numerous children to discover more about the world around them and to create their own science experiments at home from making mud pies, building small projects, and learning how things work. So much so, that I have a 7-year-old son who can’t wait to have a patent on a number of projects he “invented” from his grandmother’s inspiration.

As President Obama noted in his remarks to the awardees, the Administration is committed to continuing to cultivate highly skilled STEM teachers to train America’s future innovators, engineers, and discoverers. The President’s FY 2015 Budget proposes $40 million for a new competition by the Department of Education to support effective STEM teacher preparation and make progress on his goal to train 100,000 STEM teachers, and $20M to launch a pilot of the STEM Master Teacher Corps. In addition, events like the White House Science Fair, upcoming White House Maker Faire, and White House Film Fest continue to inspire students and provide them with new platforms to network, learn, and grow.

OSTP extends warm congratulations to this year’s PAEMST awardees. We look forward to your continued efforts to inspire and grow the next generation of STEM innovators. Keep up the good work!

Fae Jencks is a Confidential Assistant at OSTP

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