Two local teachers were recently recognized in a big way for their extraordinary contributions to teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Ashley Shanteau of Vancouver Public Schools and Sydney Termini of Washougal School District were among five regional teachers honored at the University of Washington’s fifth annual Extra Yard for Teachers Week (EYTW) on September 14, 2019.

ESD 112 STEM Director Vickei Hrdina nominated Shanteau and Termini for the award after working with both teachers through nPower Girls, an ESD 112 program designed to spark early interest in STEM subjects in girls. Hrdina say she’s seen firsthand the level of passion and dedication the two bring to providing equitable access to STEM concepts in their classrooms.

“Ashley and Sydney are incredible individuals and teachers,” said Hrdina. They really understand and are passionate about the importance of providing equal access to STEM for all students. This award is well-deserved for both of them.”

Termini, who is currently a first-grade teacher at Columbia River Gorge Elementary School in Washougal, was nominated for the award as a result of her hard work and devotion to helping young girls with interests in STEM subjects become better prepared to pursue a career path in those fields. She previously taught fifth-grade computer science at Gause Elementary in Washougal where she developed Club Code, a club for students interested in learning how to write computer programs. Students as young as first grade, and as old as fifth grade took part in the program.

Shanteau is a first-grade Spanish immersion teacher at Harney Elementary in Vancouver and prioritizes giving her students opportunities to explore STEM concepts for real life application and problem solving.

Both of these women bring light to the fact that even our youngest students can be high level problem solvers and good collaborators with each other and the community,” said Hrdina. “Their work proves that our young students are highly capable and deserve opportunities to interact with modern technology and science standards so they can grow into successful, problem-solving adults.”

The fact that both teachers are introducing their six- and seven-year-old students to technology, science and other STEM subjects so early is groundbreaking. The key to familiarizing such young students with potentially complex subject matter is to break it down and turn it into an activity that addresses real-world scenarios that they can easily understand. The teachers often take current events or modern environmental conditions to present students with an opportunity to think creatively about problem solving in their communities.

One example of this in action is a project Shanteau presented to her class last year. Following the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico in 2017, Shanteau asked her students to think about how they might prepare for a major disaster here at home. Each of the students focused on different aspects of emergency preparedness and researched ways that they could get ready for a disaster. Part of this exercise involved inviting community experts, such as city managers, water department officials and humane society workers to talk about things like having an emergency preparedness kit, keeping an emergency water supply and how to take care of your pets during a disaster.

By introducing children to these concepts early in their education, they’re better equipped to be able to think critically about the challenges and issues facing the world and their own communities today, and how they might begin to tackle those issues. Empowering students from a young age to become problem solvers for real-life issues encourages them to continue thinking critically about making positive contributions in their communities as they mature into adults.

As part of their awards, Shanteau and Termini were recognized on the football field at halftime during the game on September 14. Both received two tickets to the game and were presented with checks for $2,000 each as a “thank you” for their unique contributions to STEM education.

Sydney Termini of Washougal School District

Ashley Shanteau of Vancouver Public Schools

The Extra Yard for Teachers Week is organized by the College Football Playoff Foundation and is observed nationwide. The recognition event seeks to “elevate the teaching profession by inspiring and empowering teachers through the implementation in four focus areas: resources, recognition, recruitment, and professional development.” Find out more about this week honoring extraordinary teachers at the Extra Yard for Teachers website.

For more information on ESD 112’s various STEM programs and initiatives, visit STEM Initiatives.