© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Two St. Louis County teachers win national awards in math and science

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2009 - Two St. Louis area teachers are headed for the White House. Susan Carter of Glenridge Elementary in Clayton and Kamilla Riek of the Mehlville school district were named winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

The award recognizes the role of mentors in students' academic and personal development in science, math and engineering. It is the highest recognition a kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. The trip includes a visit to the White House in the fall where they will be honored at a ceremony with President Obama.

In total, 100 teachers and professors across the U.S. were honored with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring and the Presidential Mentoring Award.

Carter was nominated for mathematics while she was a first- and second-grade teacher at Jackson Park Elementary School in University City. “She's someone who makes students excited about learning no matter what the content area,” said Maria Zacharias of the National Science Foundation.

Carter said she especially loves seeing “that light bulb moment when you know they(students) got it.” Carter added, “I love the first day of school. I love the last day of school. I love thinking back to what everybody's learned. I've met so many wonderful kids and families.”

Riek taught fifth grade at Bayless Intermediate Schools when she was nominated. Third through sixth graders attend Bayless Intermediate Schools. She now works as a literacy teacher at elementary schools in the Mehlville School District. “A lot of students and colleagues talk about what an outstanding teacher she is and they learned about science when they weren't interested in science,” Zacharias said.

Riek moved to the St. Louis area from Cape Girardeau. It was a colleague in Cape Giradeau, Becky Hicks, who nominated Riek. Hicks had won the same award in 2006 for science.

“I was extremely humbled that someone I looked up to so much and thought was the model teacher nominated me for such an award,” Riek said.

Carter and Riek found out they won last week. Last fall they learned they were state finalists. “I'd been checking  my e-mail daily,” Carter said. 

Teachers are first nominated by people within their community, such as students, parents, colleagues or supervisors. Teachers can also nominate themselves. After an initial nomination, teachers complete an online survey, which includes an essay about how they demonstrate excellence in teaching and videos of their classroom in action.

Applications are then reviewed at the state and national levels by selection committees including  scientists, mathematicians and educators. The remaining nominees are sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for final selection.

While in Washington, Riek and Carter will attend several days of educational and celebratory events. A date has not been set for the trip yet, however in the past a “Recognition Week” has been held. During that time, teachers' have visited the White House, spent a day at National Science Foundation meetings with researchers, attended professional development seminars and met with congressional members on Capitol Hill.

“I've heard from past winners -- my friend and colleague, Becky Hicks, and other winners -- that it is an absolutely amazing trip,” Riek said.

“The thing I'm most excited about is meeting the other teachers who won, Carter said. “When you get lots of teachers together who are excited about mathematics and science, the conversations are invaluable.”

Along with the trip, the teachers will receive a $10,000 prize. There aren't any restrictions or requirements for the funds, although many teachers in the past have used it in the classrooms, Zacharias said.

Congress enacted the award in 1983, and since its inception, 3,900 teachers have received the honor.

Sarah Scully, who will be a senior in the school of journalism at the University of Missouri Columbia, is a Beacon intern.