Skip Navigation or Skip to Content

By Gabriella Landeros

CTA is proud to honor five teachers who are California’s finalists for the 2021 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST)Even through all the significant challenges this year brought, educators never failed to go above and beyond the call of duty to give their students the tools to succeed, while encouraging them to think critically and creatively. The PAEMST awards, administered by the National Science Foundation, are the nation’s highest honor for K-12 teachers of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and computer science. These educators are teachers and mentors who have risen to the top of a talented group of statewide mathematics and science educators. The California Department of Education (CDE) partners with the California Mathematics Council and the California Association of Science Educators to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program. 

(Note: CTA recognizes STEAM and the importance of arts education, but for this article we use STEM, the official award designation.) 

“On behalf of our 310,000-member union, I send a heartfelt congratulations to our five finalists. During the pandemic, educators have stepped up to safely support students, their families, and one another. STEM educators quickly adapted to an ‘innovator’s mindset,’ tailored their lessons to emphasize curiosityand inspire students’ lifelong love of learning. They have worked harder than ever to show that even though buildings were closed, teaching and learning never stopped. They are truly the leaders for tomorrow’s future,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. 

The program requires that each applicant must display subject mastery, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, lifelong learning, and leadership in education outside the classroom. Each candidate is also required to submit a 30-minute video lesson in support of their application. For more information, visit the CDE Presidential Awards for Math and Science Teaching web page or the PAEMST website. 

Mathematics Finalists 

Kristie Donavan (Irvine Teachers Association)Woodbridge High School, Irvine Unified School District, Irvine. Kristie has been teaching for 13 years and has had experience teaching Math II, Enhanced Math II, Enhanced Math III, Advanced Placement Calculus BC, and Math Foundations. Kristie previously worked as a Teacher on Special Assignment, where she built relationships with secondary math teachers across the district and led district math teams in creating new math classes, implementing integrated math courses, and reexamining high school grading practices. She also mentored teacher candidates and two early career teachers. Kristie is a National Board-Certified Teacher and has presented at the California Mathematics Council—South Conference as well as the annual National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference in Washington, District of Columbia in 2018. The lesson Kristie taught in her Enhanced Math III Honors class was on students discovering the relationship between Cartesian graphs and their corresponding polar graphs. 

“I am incredibly honored to be recognized and proud to work in a school and district with the best colleagueswho push me to learn and grow as an educator. My vision for mathematics education is that all students feel capable and confident as problem solvers. I strive each day to make math engaging and accessible, to encourage students to persevere through struggle, and to honor multiple ways of thinking so that every student feels like they have something valuable to contribute,” said Donavan. 

Maria Garcia (Wiseburn Faculty Association), Richard Henry Dana Middle School, Wiseburn School District, Hawthorne. Maria is a grade eight Algebra I teacher. She has been teaching for 20 years and is currently the Math Department Chair. Maria was a previous California PAEMST State Finalist in 2019. The lesson Maria submitted helped students discover patterns in quadratics leading to conceptual understanding of completing the square. In addition to her teaching schedule, she hosts Math Saturday Events for parents and students. Maria has created the Girls Who Code Club at her school and has led the Mommy and Me coding event. She also launched a Hack-a-Challenge in which students from grades five through twelve came together to work on building/creating a robot that could successfully clean the surrounding beaches in the community. 

“Being the California state finalist for the PAEMST award is an honor, and I am humbled by the recognition. It was a rigorous process that allowed me to revisit, reflect, and refine my craft.  Through the reflection process, I found that my students’ smiles and joy for learning are what fueled my constant desire to continue to learn and motivate others with what I consider to be ‘the beautiful world of math.’ Within this world, I hope that our future STEM students will be inspired to make our world a better place and see the beauty in all!” said Garcia.

Stephanie Paris (United Teachers Los Angeles), Granada Hills Charter High School, Los Angeles Unified School District, Granada Hills. Stephanie has been teaching for six years. The lesson Stephanie submitted for her Algebra I class explored exponential functions and examined patterns of growth and decay. She is a Master Teacher Fellow with Math for America, Los Angeles. As a Fellow, she has provided professional learning to teachers across the district and state. She mentored student teachers and helped teachers develop Project Based Learning units. Stephanie also co-taught classes with a science teacher who helped create interdisciplinary projects that connected mathematics and science, specifically Algebra I and Physics. During 2020, she facilitated two professional learning courses where she helped teachers create virtual math lessons and build community relationships during distance learning. 

“Finding out that I was a California State Finalist was very exciting! I still consider myself a fairly new teacher, so having my work recognized by others was a great feeling and such an honor. Going through the application pushed me to think deeply about my practice–it was a highly reflective process, and I became a better teacher by the end of it. One of my hopes for the future of STEM education is that it incorporates more compassion and empathy, as well as becoming more interdisciplinary. Our STEM students are our future innovators and decision-makers, so it is important that they become empathetic, thriving learners,” said Paris.  

Science Finalists

Garrett Lim (Walnut Valley Educators Association), Walnut High School, Walnut Valley Unified School District, Walnut. Garrett has been teaching for 14 years. He helped develop and currently teaches the school’s first-ever International Baccalaureate Higher Level Chemistry course. Garrett was part of a district committee tasked with brainstorming how the Common Core curriculum could be implemented and integrated within the science classroom. The topic of his lesson was how different materials have different specific heat capacities and its relationship to how they feel. 

“Being selected as a state finalist for the PAEMST has been such a surreal experience. To be honored alongside such amazing educators is truly humbling. Being a chemistry teacher has been so rewarding and I am glad that this award exists to honor those that inspire and educate the next generation in STEM. As we are battling a global pandemic, the importance of STEM has never been clearer.  For being a discerning citizen to being a scientist or engineer that is working to solve our world’s problems, STEM education is foundational in informing and hopefully inspiring our students to become contributing members of society,” said Lim.  

Catherine Messenger (Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District Teachers Association), Los Gatos High School, Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, Los Gatos. Catherine teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Biology along with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Research class. She has been teaching for 15 years. She was the Science Department Chair from 2015 to 2020. Previously, she also led the Los Gatos High School team participating in a multi-school program to launch a corrosion of iron experiment to the International Space Station. Catherine also shared advanced science research curriculum with San Francisco Bay Area teachers. The topic of her lesson focused on the properties of carbon and water. 

Catherine Messenger (Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District Teachers’ Association)

“I feel humbled and gratified to have been chosen as a California finalist for the PAEMST. The application process allowed me to reflect on my profession and to celebrate what I have accomplished with our young people. STEM is so important to me and for our students for the same reason; we need objective critical thinkers to navigate these very challenging times. I am fortunate to be able to stay in touch with students that enrolled in my science research class, and they are already making significant contributions in STEM, many of them directly addressing COVID,” said Messenger. “My hope for the future of STEM education is that we can make a program like my research class accessible to all students at all levels. Carrying out authentic research not only promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but it also gives the students the confidence to take on any problem and know that they can find a solution.” 

The Discussion 0 comments Post a Comment

Leave a comment

Please post with kindness. Your email address willl not be published. Required fields are marked*