A Waverly Elementary School teacher and math coach has received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Melissa Straughan's award also came with $10,000 cash and a trip to Washington, D.C., for the awards ceremony.
Straughan, who teaches third grade and works as a math coach, was nominated by Diane Stone of Teachers Development Group, a nonprofit whose mission is to increase students' mathematical understanding and achievement through effective professional development. Straughan is not a member of the group but worked with Stone, who provided professional development to Waverly.
The awards, administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching.
Each awardee receives a citation signed by President Trump and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. Award recipients also traveled last month to Washington, D.C., for the awards ceremony.
Straughan said creating a video for her application was particularly challenging.
"Watching myself teach was probably the hardest part of applying for this award, but also the most beneficial," she said. "When you're teaching, you constantly make in-the-moment decisions. It can be very difficult to stop and reflect on all those decisions and how they are impacting students as you're teaching. Watching and listening to myself teach allowed me to reflect on my instruction. It helped me recognize my rate of speech, which students I called on most frequently, and what kinds of questions I was asking."
She said she reacted to news of the win with "equal parts excitement and disbelief."
"It is an immense personal honor to receive this award, but I feel that it doesn’t adequately reward the people I have worked with that have been such a huge part of my success," she said. "This award is validation that my colleagues and I are moving in the right direction and our efforts are both appreciated and acknowledged."
The trip to the nation's capital was exciting on a number of levels, Straughan said. Her personal favorite moment was seeing President Obama's portrait, while her son loved the Air and Space Smithsonian and "my dinosaur-enthusiast daughter’s eyes almost popped out of her head when she she saw a triceratops skeleton at the Natural History Museum."
While there, Straughan participated in the White House STEM Summit at the National Science Foundation to share her thoughts on the federal five-year education strategic plan for science, technology, engineering and math.
"I was encouraged to think bigger than I ever had before," she said. "I already work with an outstanding group of people, and the new colleagues I met are truly inspiring."
Straughan said it's too soon to say what she'll do with the prize's cash award, and that she's trying to "harness all the inspiring ideas spurred through work with my newfound peer network, and how to better voice my ideas and visions that this platforms offers."
Teaching and coaching math at Waverly is especially exciting, she said, because the school is creating a "collaborative mathematics community" where teachers support each other, share ideas and learn together.
"Helping students develop the habits of critical thinking and patient problem solving is incredibly challenging work, but it is the right work," she said. "Now more than ever I believe our world needs critical thinkers and patient problem solvers and it is an honor to be a part of this work."