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Kansas educators receive top U.S. award for science, math teaching

 
Posted: Feb 10, 2022
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

Two Kansas educators – one from Maize and one from Wichita – are being recognized for their outstanding teaching skills through the prestigious Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program.

Callie Harris, who at the time of the award was a mathematics teacher at Maize Elementary School, Maize Unified School District 266, and Zerrin Oelze, a science teacher at McLean Science and Technology Magnet Elementary School, Wichita USD 259, were among more than 100 teachers named 2020 PAEMST recipients.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which was established in 1983 by Congress, is presented annually to outstanding K-12 science (including computer science) and mathematics teachers from across the country.

Nominees complete a rigorous application process that requires them to demonstrate their excellence in content knowledge and ability to adapt to a broad range of learners and teaching environments. Winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.

Each year, the award alternates between educators teaching kindergarten through sixth grade and those teaching seventh through 12th grades. This year, kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers were honored.

Harris taught in elementary schools for 17 years. She taught at McLean Science and Technology Magnet Elementary in Wichita for seven years before moving to Maize Elementary School. She currently serves as assistant principal at Pray-Woodmen Elementary School, Maize USD 266.

Harris in 2019 won a nearly $12,000 grant to implement a Stop Everything and STEAM Day for Maize Elementary. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a middle level mathematics endorsement, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and an endorsement in educational leadership.

“Being a recipient of the Presidential Award means I have dedicated my career to understanding how students learn mathematics and implementing that knowledge daily,” Harris said at the time of her application. “Receiving the Presidential Award means I am a member of a prestigious group of educators who believe in students, delve deep into mathematical practices, and strive for excellence in education. This award means I have created a safe space for students to explore with tools, foster understanding, and pursue excellence in mathematics.”

Oelze has been an educator for more than 20 years. She has taught at McLean Science and Technology Magnet for the past 17 years. Prior to this, she taught at Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary, Wichita USD 259, for three years.

Oelze incorporates place-based science in an Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site (OWLS) as well as with an indoor honeybee hive in the science lab. She coordinates schoolwide science events each quarter, a yearly STEM Night for families and leads monthly family workdays in the OWLS.

She chairs the Science Committee and serves on the building Leadership Team. Oelze participated in the 2021 Kansas Assessment Program external review for the state science assessment and has served on several district-level science committees.

She earned a bachelor’s, cum laude, in speech communications; a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in education from Wichita State University; and a master’s in curriculum and instruction with a Sally Ride Science teaching concentration from the American College of Education. She is certified in kindergarten through ninth-grade education.

“What an honor to receive the Presidential Award and join a cadre of educators passionate about teaching and learning! I am grateful to be an educator. It is a privilege to recognize and value the unique talents of my students and instill within them a passion for learning,” Oelze said. “I have aspired to become a teacher of excellence since beginning my career. My students and colleagues inspire me daily to reach and grow. This prestigious award does the same.”

Winners of this Presidential honor receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be used at their discretion. Finalists also will be recognized virtually.

Since 1983, more than 5,200 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.

For more information about PAEMST, visit www.paemst.org.

For a list of all awardees, visit https://www.paemst.org/recognition.

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