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Top honors: Fort Rucker Primary School teacher up for national award

Bridget Lester, FRPS gifted teacher, goes over a STEM project with some of her students in the STEM lab Sept. 25. Lester is one of three Department of Defense Education Activity state finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Bridget Lester, FRPS gifted teacher, goes over a STEM project with some of her students in the STEM lab Sept. 25. Lester is one of three Department of Defense Education Activity state finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: October 16, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 16, 2014) -- Fort Rucker is no stranger to awards when it comes to excellence, and one teacher has taken that winning spirit and used it to educate the installation’s youth.

Because of her hands-on approach to learning, Bridget Lester, gifted teacher at Fort Rucker Primary School, has been named one of three Department of Defense Education Activity state finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

“I don’t think it’s fully set in yet, and I never thought I would make it this far because I’m my own worst critic, but it’s such an honor and it speaks volumes that my colleagues think that highly of me to nominate me for a national award,” said Lester.

The PAEMST awards are the nation’s highest honors for math and science teachers, not just for DODEA teachers, but all teachers, according to the organization’s website, wwww.paemst.org.

“Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education,” the site reads.

Lynn Irwin, first grade teacher at FRPS, said she saw that Lester was deserving of such an award and decided to throw her name in the nomination.

“When I saw the description of the award, it discussed exemplary science teachers who go above and beyond the regular science curriculum and who offer students hands-on learning opportunities that are applicable to their real-life experience and learning, and I knew she was doing that,” said Irwin. “She was doing that in her classroom and school wide with all of our first-grade students.”

Lester is responsible for introducing the students to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program, despite the primary school not being an official STEM school. With that introduction, she also took the steps to implement a STEM lab in the school so that the students could learn the processes of the program in the proper environment.

After the nomination, Lester had to prove she was worthy of the award and the arduous process began. After receiving an email that her nomination had been accepted, she had one month to create a 45-minute, uninterrupted video showcasing what she was doing to better her students, write a 12-page paper answering four criteria questions, then write a 10-page follow-up of supplemental material to support her initial 12 pages.

If Lester is named the winner of the award, she will receive a certificate signed by the president of the United States, a paid trip for two to Washington, D.C., to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

But it’s not the awards that Lester is in it for.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she said as she recalled her first year of college. “I went to college and my first semester was grueling. I thought, I will never make it through, but I did.”

During her time in school, she took a practicum course, during which she had to sit in with a sixth grade class. Normally, there was no student-teaching in early practicum classes, only observation, but this particular teacher allowed her to teach, which solidified her decision to become an educator.

“She started to let me take over a bit and I realized that this is really something that I love,” she said. “I remember there was a little boy in the class who was an ELL (English Language Learner) student, and I got to work one-on-one with him, and just to see his excitement and his passion for learning … I knew then that I was going to be a teacher – it really just validated what I wanted to do.”

That passion is something her fellow teachers see in her teachings every day.

“To see first graders be able to do some of (the STEM activities) at that age level and the things that they understand about engineering because of her instruction is just amazing,” said Irwin. “She has the ability to motivate them to go above and beyond what they would normally do in the classroom, set high goals for themselves and meet lofty challenges.

“What she is doing with these first grade students is just the first steps and it’s laying a very strong foundation for college career readiness,” which is never too early to start, she continued. “The world that these children are going to be expected to work in is going to require them to have the skills that Ms. Lester is teaching.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/136321/

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