A Vancouver Public Schools science teacher has been named ESD 112’s Regional Teacher of the Year for 2021. Dr. Erin Lark teaches Environmental and Life Sciences at iTech Preparatory School in Vancouver, and was nominated by her peers and selected from among a group of highly qualified educators from around Southwest Washington. She will also compete as a finalist for the highly prestigious Washington State Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) later this year.
Dr. Lark has been recognized by many of her colleagues for her commitment to not only getting students interested in science, but for supporting them in all areas of their learning and helping them understand how science connects to so many aspects of everyday life.
“Dr. Lark’s dedication to creating interdisciplinary and authentic learning for our students knows no bounds,” said Dr. Lark’s colleague and iTech history teacher John Zingale. “She is always working to show students how the sciences interact in our everyday lives and the vital role they play in social justice movements here in the United States and across the globe.”
As part of a growing trend in K-12 education, Dr. Lark is a strong proponent for advocating for and supporting the mental and emotional health needs of all students, in addition to helping them meet their learning standards. It has become clear that success for students should not just be measured in academic accomplishments, and students’ social and emotional needs must also be met in order for them to achieve in all aspects of life.
“Erin…uses strong instructional practices in conjunction with community building activities…to support student [social and emotional learning] needs,” said iTech principal Darby Meade. “These experiences are leveraged along with opportunities for students to focus on mindfulness, creating an environment in class that accelerates student learning.”
Also at the heart of Dr. Lark’s teaching philosophy is the idea that students deserve and should be able to direct their own education whenever possible, and that allowing students to do so helps them make connections with real world issues. By combining classroom learning with career-development opportunities in their own community, students will ultimately be better equipped to enter the workforce and support business and industry needs while experiencing their own career and life fulfillment.
“As a researcher, I found that student interest and self-perceived ability in STEM careers begins much earlier than high school,” said Dr. Lark. “Infusing instruction with career exploration that trusts students of all ages with authentic challenges from the working world puts students in the driver’s seat.”
As Regional Teacher of the Year, Dr. Lark will have access to unique professional development opportunities from OSPI, as well as opportunities to speak to local and statewide education leaders about issues important to her and her students. Dr. Lark will be presented with a plaque commemorating her award later this year at an ESD 112 board meeting (details TBD).