For Jennifer Northrup, the best awards are smiles, bright eyes and the excited babble of high-pitched voices. However, as one of the five finalists in the state for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the Hoover resident is receiving national recognition for her work at Oak Mountain Elementary School.
PAEMST is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for K-12 math and science education, according to the PAEMST website. The award recognizes teachers who develop and implement a high-quality instructional program that is informed by content knowledge and enhances student learning.
“I enjoy the students. I enjoy inspiring them,” said Northrup, who has been teaching third-grade math and science at Oak Mountain Elementary School for the past three years. “I have a passion for math and science and I just like passing that love on to them and seeing them getting an idea and seeing their creativity take off.”
This past summer, Northrup spent three weeks as a trainer for the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, a program that Mountain Brook Elementary uses. As the lead math and science teacher for third grade at Oak Mountain Elementary, she attends Shelby County school board meetings and collaborates with other Oak Mountain Elementary teachers to determine the most effective teaching method, which often involves more hands-on learning, as opposed to simply reading a textbook.
“When you’re looking at students’ learning, you have to look at the lesson you taught and whether they got it or whether they didn’t get it, then you have to adjust your instruction accordingly on whether it was even just one child who didn’t get it,” Northrup said. “How are you going to meet all of different students’ needs?”
Established by Congress in 1983, the program authorizes the president to bestow up to 108 awards a year. Since the program’s inception, more than 4,400 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.
Northrup expressed appreciation for all the support she has received over the years and hopes to inspire others the same way.
“I always had adults — whether it was administration or colleagues or anybody — that had confidence in me, so their confidence in me drove me to want to do my best and continue going forward,” she said.
In the Shelby County School District, Natalie Landrum, a fourth-grade teacher at Helena Intermediate School, was also nominated for PAEMST.
Recipients of the award receive a certificate signed by the president of the United States, a paid 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.
“I don’t do what I do for the recognition, clearly, but it is nice to be honored and selected and recognized as a high-quality math teacher,” Northrup said. “I do what I do for my students and I always want to do what I think is the best practice at the time and give them the best instruction possible.”