Ryan Pfeifer, a science educator at Washburn Rural High School, Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for his alternative approach to teaching science during a surprise assembly Tuesday, April 26, in Topeka.
Pfeifer “flips” his classroom so his students use online lectures to explore concepts at home and school time to promote deeper understanding and engage in more hands-on labs. Pfeifer’s former students often share that they are ahead of their classmates, an important boost for college-level STEM studies.
Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop, joined by Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson, surprised Pfeifer with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials. Pfeifer is one of only two educators in Kansas and among more than 60 nationwide to receive the recognition during the 2021-2022 school year.
Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it.
“We couldn’t be more excited to honor Ryan,” Watson said. “His commitment to student learning and innovation in the classroom are what make him so deserving of this recognition.”
As chair of Washburn Rural High School’s science department, Pfeifer led curriculum changes to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and added new courses, including Forensic Science, AP Environmental Science, and Environmental Resources and Wildlife Science. All classes include lab-based, practical application strategies that incorporate NGSS practices.
Pfeifer sets high expectations and pushes students to better themselves each day. He gave up his advisory period to become an interventionist, ready to help any student who needs extra support in life sciences. He meets with referred students daily to reteach concepts they struggle with and evaluate their understanding. Thanks to Pfeifer, numerous Washburn Rural students have caught up and are thriving in their science classes. He serves as an adviser for students’ long-term science research papers, an IB graduation requirement. Outside the classroom, Pfeifer is the pole vault coach on Washburn Rural High School’s track and field team.
Pfeifer earned a bachelor’s in biology education in 2011 from Kansas State University and a master’s in education in 2013 from Baker University.
“Ryan Pfeifer consistently pushes the envelope for himself, his colleagues and his students to motivate and encourage them to find the best version of themselves,” said Bishop, who herself is a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. “Whether it’s a new approach to science labs or the willingness to start a pole vault program from scratch, Ryan is not only an educator, he is an inspirational leader for his community. We are excited to welcome him into the Milken Educator Network.”
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