White House salutes two county teachers Pointers Run math, Mount Hebron science instructors honored

January 26, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Fifth-grade math teacher Nancy Cornelius requires her pupils to write checks and interpret cooking recipes during class. Tim Perry, a high school chemistry teacher, teaches students about the behavior of gases by having them construct and fly hot air balloons.

Such innovations make the Howard County educators among the most popular teachers at their schools -- and are bringing them recognition from the White House.

For their work in their schools and communities, Cornelius from Pointers Run Elementary School and Perry from Mount Hebron High last week received Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

They are two of the four teachers in Maryland -- and about 200 nationwide -- to get the awards.

"We had just finished our second exam of the day, and there were kids milling about when I heard, 'Mr. Perry, there's a phone call for you,' " Perry said Friday. "Then I heard, 'Mr. Perry, this is so-and-so from the White House.' Wow."

Said Cornelius, "It's very exciting. This is the first time I've ever received anything like this. I just really appreciate the interest. I'm just a little old math teacher out here, really."

The awards are given by the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., to as many as four educators in each state. Teachers whose performance, background, experience and evaluations are rated exemplary are selected. They must also submit lesson plan samples that demonstrate their teaching innovations.

About 214 teachers from around the country -- including Washington and four U.S. territories -- will be honored by President Clinton at a White House ceremony in June. They also will receive $7,500 each to use in the classroom at their discretion.

"Both Nancy and Tim are outstanding," said Michael E. Hickey, Howard's school superintendent. "Anyone who has a chance to visit their rooms can see it. They are really a delight to watch."

Cornelius and Perry said applying educational lessons to everyday activities is essential to keeping students interested and learning.

A lot of people say chemistry is scary, Perry said. "But I try to get my students to see the connections somewhere. That keeps them interested."

Cornelius brings in speakers such as bookkeepers and engineers to show math in real life for her children.

Perhaps the most important element to being a good teacher is simply loving the work, the teachers said.

"That's everything," Cornelius said. "You have to believe in what you're doing. To teach this, you've got to live this stuff. You really have to internalize it all -- otherwise, you might as well just plug in a computer program."

Both teachers are well-known by administrators throughout the Howard school system as hard workers, who hold workshops, help write curricula and attend conferences to broaden their knowledge.

Energy, enthusiasm

Cornelius, 46, has lived in Clarksville 25 years and has taught elementary school students -- first as a special education teacher and then as a math teacher -- nearly 14 years.

She has been at Pointers Run Elementary in Clarksville for six years.

"What I really see in Nancy is her desire to grow professionally," said Kay Sammons, in charge of elementary math curriculum for Howard schools. "Her energy level and enthusiasm are really key.

"This almost sounds silly, but she loves what she does, and it comes across in the classroom. She's dynamic. The kids hang on her every word."

Perry, 47, of Ellicott City is a chemist who has taught at Mount Hebron in Ellicott City nearly 11 years.

"Tim has a big view of what science is all about," said Lee Summerville, secondary science coordinator for county schools. "He looks around to make science real for students, so they can see the real applications.

"He works all day and night and all summer long," she said. "He has devoted his life to teaching, he really has."

Neither teacher has decided what to do with the extra dollars they will have for their programs.

But both said they might focus on technology: Perhaps new graphing calculators for Mount Hebron's young chemists and high-tech machinery at Pointers Run that would benefit all children at the school.

The other Maryland teachers who received the awards are Dorothy Reitz, a math teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Middle School in Germantown and Karen Shrake, a science teacher at Burtonsville Elementary in Burtonsville.

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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