Spring Mills Middle School science teacher named one of country's best

Michele Adams earns Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

May 03, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Michele Adams, a sixth-grade teacher at Spring Mills Middle School outside Martinsburg, W.Va., is the first Berkeley County, W.Va., teacher to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

SPRING MILLS, W.Va. — Taking experiences learned in the field and bringing them into her sixth-grade classroom led Michele Adams to be named one of America's top science teachers.

Adams, who has been teaching science in Berkeley County for 20 years, the last seven at Spring Mills Middle School, was named by President Obama as one of 85 math and science teachers in the country — and the first from Berkeley County — to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

The award includes a $10,000 check for each recipient from the National Science Foundation to spend as he or she sees fit. The NSF pays expenses for a four-day stay in Washington, D.C., that will include meetings with the president and members of Congress, and dinner at the State Department.

Each year the award alternates between teachers in kindergarten to the sixth grade, and grades 7 to 12. Adams was awarded the 2010 prize for  kindergarten to the sixth grade, she said.

She was selected over two other West Virginia teachers.

"The competition was challenging," said Marc Arvon, principal of Spring Mills Middle School. "Michele came here with very high credentials. She's had many experiences outside the realm of school. She truly has a 21st-century classroom and energizes her students with constant hands-on experiences."

Adams grew up in Columbus, Ohio, earned a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a master's degree from West Virginia University.

She spent 3 1/2 months in 2001 aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker on an NSF-sponsored expedition to study the effect of plate expansion two miles deep on the ocean floor near the North Pole.

"We were looking to see where the plates were moving along the mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs from the North Pole to Antarctica," Adams said. "I brought back some rocks to my classroom."

She spent a year teaching in Brazil, participated in a water workshop in Belize and spent a few weeks at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., all of which helped her earn master's degree credits.

"These were all hands-on courses and I base a lot of my teaching on them," she said.

She credited her administrators for allowing her to take advantage of opportunities as they came up.

"Not all school systems will let you do this," she said.

On Tuesday, Adams' students were looking at lettuce cells through microscopes. According to her notice board, there's a test today on what scientists call the substance that fills cells and what part surrounds them.

She came to Berkeley County Schools 20 years ago with her heart set on teaching early elementary grades. The district needed a middle school science teacher and she was talked into taking the job.

"Science has never been my passion, but I always understood it. It always came easy to me," Adams said. "My father and older brother are engineers, and my younger brother is a high school science teacher, so we all thought that kind of way."

She said she had an inkling a few weeks ago that she might have won the award when she learned the FBI was doing a check on her background.

Adams and her husband, Todd Adams, have two children, Ava, 8 and Nate, 6. They live near Martinsburg, W.Va.

The award comes with an added bonus for Adams.

Asked if her wardrobe was sufficient for four days in Washington, a visit to the White House and attending other high-level functions, she said: "I have to shop."

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