As a middle school student, Linn Griffiths developed an interest in science and problem solving.
"I was drawn to the methodology of science," Griffiths said. "And I became passionate about it."
Three decades later, Griffiths' passion has garnered her a nomination as one of three Maryland finalists for the 2007-2008 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Griffiths was surprised by the nomination, but Dennis Kirkwood, supervisor of science for the county school system, was not.
"Linn Griffiths has set an example of an outstanding science teacher for more than 20 years," Kirkwood said. "She's successful with the advanced students as well as the slower students. She is always a learner, as well as a teacher. She lives and breathes her subject matter."
The award, started by Congress in 1983, is the highest recognition a kindergarten through 12th-grade math or science teacher can receive for teaching in the United States. Up to 108 teachers are selected from each of the 50 states, Washington, Puerto Rico, Department of Defense Schools, and the U.S. territories.
Recipients of the award will receive a citation from the president, a paid trip for two to Washington, gifts from sponsors and a $10,000 cash award from the National Science Foundation.
To be eligible, teachers must have a degree or appropriate credentials in the category for which they are applying, be a full-time employee of the school or school district, have at least five years of mathematics or science teaching experience before applying, and they must teach mathematics or science at the K-12th grade level in a public or private school.
After Griffiths earned a bachelor's degree from York College in York, Pa. in secondary education biology, she began substitute teaching in county schools in 1988. Eventually she secured a job at Fallston Middle School, where she worked for nine years.
Then in 1999, she began teaching honors biology and Advanced Placement environmental science at C. Milton Wright High School. Interest in the environmental science class was so high that she now has four classes.
Griffiths, who helped develop the science curriculum for the county school system, said her teaching philosophy is that everybody can understand science and use it to solve problems.
"Our hands are in the future, and our kids are our future," said Griffiths, a Darlington resident. "We have to teach them to solve problems to take care of the environment."
Griffiths said she tries to make science fun for her students.
And the fun begins with her passion, she said.
"I am really passionate about environmental science," said Griffiths, 41. "I have the kids answer questions such as: `Is bottled water as good as tap water?'"
Griffiths said she wants her students to have a better understanding of how the world works and to be informed citizens.
"Some students come into my classes and they don't have a lot of knowledge about the environment," she said. "I want them to see how important taking care of the environment is, and how many careers have a tie to the environment."
The biggest reward Griffiths gets from teaching is when she inspires her students, she said.
Zachary Alexander said he was undecided about his career path last year. Then he took environmental science with Griffiths and found his niche, he said.
"Mrs. Griffiths has a great knowledge of science," said Alexander, 17, of Bel Air, who works as a tutor in the remedial biology program Griffiths teaches for students who didn't pass the high school assessment exams. "She makes science fun. She does a lot of outdoor experiments and labs, and she takes us on field trips. She creates a unique way of learning."
Megan Ravenscraft, a former student of Griffiths who stopped by to see her at school on a recent afternoon, agreed. A sophomore at Harford Community College, where she is taking courses toward a degree in biology secondary education, Ravenscraft said she appreciated the way Griffiths made the course material relevant to real life.
"Mrs. Griffiths is a wonderful teacher," said Ravenscraft, 20, of Bel Air. "She's very enthusiastic and she loves the outdoors. She was a big role model for me, and she is cool to talk with."
Matthew Brown also wants to follow in Griffiths' footsteps, he said.
"I saw her and how involved she is, and I want to be the same way," Brown said. "I want to influence kids the way she influences kids."
Griffiths' love of science is demonstrated in and out of the classroom. In recent years, she has sponsored the Envirothon Team, become a County Earth Day committee member and undertaken landscaping projects at the school.
She and her husband, Peter Griffiths, also a teacher at C. Milton Wright, helped with the Havre de Grace Relay for Life, which raised $50,000, more than any other school in the state.
When student Kylie Gaylen heard that Griffiths was nominated for the award, she said she was excited for her favorite teacher.
"It's a big honor to be nominated," said Gaylen, 16, of Bel Air. "I feel honored to have a teacher like that. She is so passionate about making the environment better, and she is teaching us to do that. She makes science relevant."