Warwick Vets biology teacher Dave Mather has always had a passion for science, and when he realized he had “a natural ability to speak to people,” especially students, while taking classes at the University of Rhode Island, he decided to become a science teacher. Mather made the right choice, as he was recently selected for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States.
Since 1983, more than 4,000 teachers have been recognized for their contributions to mathematics and science education. Since the program was started under President Ronald Reagan, there have been 77 awardees at the national level from Rhode Island, including 10 from Warwick. Mather becomes the 11th award winner to represent Warwick.
“I felt humbled and honored,” Mather said of the award. “It’s a really nice achievement of the efforts put in on a day-to-day basis for teaching and trying to bring new things to Warwick Vets, [while] aligning students’ skills with the changing work environment and what colleges want.”
Mather said he tries to provide students with the proper skills to work in a lab setting, something that colleges and businesses like Amgen are looking for.
“I enjoy seeing the progress of students and their curiosity with science,” he said. “I like the fact that students really get surprised with things. Science is about testing and finding, but it can be a learning process and I particularly enjoy that.”
Mather said getting students to realize that the science career environment has really changed with technology and preparing them for that can be a challenge, “but once you get them to see that the skills they’re learning will be useful, it’s easy from there.”
Mather has taught in Warwick for 15 years, spending his first year at Pilgrim before transitioning to Vets, where he now teaches AP Biology as well as the Biotechnology Academy.
“The academy is the only full academy in the state,” he said. “It’s a two-year program for juniors and seniors, where the approach is coordinated so [students] have the same science, English and social studies classes.”
Mather said he had a lot of support from Vets administration and his department head to get the biotech academy up and running. It’s been going for two years now.
“We had a lot of meetings with colleges and businesses, and the biggest need for them is having skilled students, so we’re trying to do that,” he said.
Mather said he was nominated for the award.
“Once you’re nominated, you have to write about your philosophy on education, video a class and [include] a 15-page packet that goes for state selection,” he said, adding that the National Science Foundation then selects three science teachers and submits them as finalists to the White House staff, which then determines the final applicant. “I couldn’t have done a lot of things without the support of the Vets administration, a supportive department head and a close faculty.”
Ron Poirier, supervisor of math and science for Warwick Schools, who will retire this year, said, “David is very well-deserving of this honor. He becomes a member of a very select group of teachers from Warwick who have received this award.”
Warwick may have another teacher to celebrate next year, as Nikki Greene, a 3rd grade teacher at Robertson Elementary School, was recently named as a state finalist.
“I’m truly honored to be named a finalist,” Greene said. “It’s an amazing opportunity and I’m just overwhelmed with excitement and the thought of it. I’m very proud.”
Greene has been teaching in Warwick for 16 years, all at Robertson. She spent her first five years at the school as a special education teacher.
“I love working with children and finding new ways and helping students learn in different ways to stay current,” she said. “I love what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I try to look for different ways to stay excited about teaching to keep students excited about learning.”
Greene said one of the reasons she loves coming to work every day is the people at Robertson.
“Robertson is a great school. It’s wonderful to work with dedicated colleagues and we do well under the guidance of our principal, Lynn Dambruch. We’re like a family,” she said.
Greene said she prefers to focus on the positive rather than the negative, and if challenges exist, she likes to work together and problem solve to find a solution.
“There were some challenges with the new math curriculum, but the teachers rose to the occasion and we worked together,” she said. “That speaks volumes of the school.”
Presidential awardees receive a citation signed by the President of the United States, a trip for two to Washington, D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The PAEMST program is open to outstanding mathematics and science teachers in the 50 states and four U.S. jurisdictions (Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense schools; and the U.S. territories).
Mather will be going to Washington, D.C. for a week of recognition from June 26 to June 30. The ceremonies will include a dinner cruise on the Potomac, dinner in the Franklin room at the State Department, an award ceremony at the American Academy of Sciences and will be capped off with a visit to the White House to meet with the President.