Science teacher wins $25,000 prize High school celebrates education award to popular Foor-Hogue

October 01, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The wish list of a dedicated science teacher would quickly consume the $25,000 award that Robert Foor-Hogue won yesterday -- one of four teachers in the state to win the coveted Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

"I need a variable speed drive for the wind tunnel," said Foor-Hogue, breathless from the surprise of winning an award he didn't even know he was nominated for, with television cameras in his face and the entire student body whipped into a frenzy in the gym.

"And a digital camera, and a lot more computers," Foor-Hogue continued. "A big TV monitor. I'm always looking to get more computers and things for the classroom. This should open a bunch of new channels."

Foor-Hogue has a growing statewide reputation for the way his science research class conducts real science, not just isolated school projects. Thirteen fish tanks bubble and splash in his cavernous laboratory, where students each year raise trout to be released into Morgan Run and other tributaries that are being restored to the cold, pristine, oxygen-rich condition that trout require for survival.

His reputation among students at South Carroll High School quadrupled the chemistry enrollment within a few years after he started teaching there 17 years ago. Now, not only are most students taking at least one science course a year, many are taking two or three at a time.

"Everybody loves his class," said Adam McCready, a senior. "He's the manager, and you can go off on your own adventure and do what you want. Basically, it's your class."

Adam this year worked with Foor-Hogue and other students to create an outdoor "classroom" in the wetlands behind Piney Ridge Elementary School in Eldersburg.

The Milken award, started in 1987 by junk-bond king Michael Milken and his family, is awarded in 35 states to selected teachers and principals for outstanding work. Susan Falcone, a family studies teacher at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County, was also named a winner yesterday. The foundation rewards teachers with no-strings-attached cash prizes, and brings them to a conference in California each year where they can meet with fellow winners and establish contacts with business and industry.

And it is through those contacts that Foor-Hogue hopes to get his variable speed drive and digital camera, he said. The cash award, he says, comes just in time to pay for college for his oldest child, Sarah, 16. Foor-Hogue and his wife, Lee, a social worker, also have a son, Josh, 12.

Lack of money has never stopped Foor-Hogue and his science students. The students sell pizzas and write grant proposals to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, then use the thousands of dollars in grants to restore the wetlands behind the school and repopulate the stream with trout they raise in their laboratory.

And now, the fish are jumping and the enthusiasm is even higher.

Everyone at South Carroll High yesterday knew that something big was going to happen when the principal called a pep rally for the last period.

"We saw them polishing the foyer floor, and they wouldn't let anyone walk on it," said Laurie Lewis, who directs a laboratory in the school.

"We were saying, 'Is President Clinton coming?' " Lewis said. "They've never had this much excitement over an assembly before."

Not President Clinton, but State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick turned out to be the surprise guest. She entered the rally, after students had cheered on their athletic teams for coming fall meets and games, to announce that there was one more reason to be proud. One of their teachers had won a $25,000 reward for dedicated, innovative work.

Before she announced the name, everyone in the gym knew who was. Several students began chanting: "Foor-Hogue, Foor-Hogue, Foor-Hogue!"

This is a big year for Foor-Hogue. In addition to the Milken award, he is one of seven finalists for Maryland State Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced at a banquet at Martin's West on Friday evening.

He is also featured in the September issue of Woman's Day magazine in an article on eight school programs that work.

And by January, he will unveil the first student-created exhibit in Columbus Center, the $147 million public-private marine biotechnology complex at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Next summer, Foor-Hogue and colleague James Gilford, a Westminster High School science teacher, have a grant to teach about a dozen teachers from around the state how to construct their own aquaculture systems.

Foor-Hogue started raising fish in class eight years ago because it afforded a wide range of science projects that incorporated different disciplines.

Students learn microbiology studying the tank water, chemistry from monitoring the ammonia levels in the water and anesthetizing the fish, and biology through studying the growth of the fish and diseases that affect them. Along the way, there is plenty of data to collect and analyze, a process that crosses all scientific disciplines.

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