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Santa Fe Teacher Wins Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching

Delara Sharma receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in the K–6 Science category for the state of New Mexico in Washington D.C. (Photo: Courtesy of Delara Sharma)

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation proudly congratulates Santa Fe Public Schools (SFPS) teacher Delara Sharma for winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Sharma received the award in the K–6 Science category for New Mexico during a recent ceremony in Washington D.C. Awards were presented by Dr. France A. Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation and Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Sharma has been an educator for 22 years, teaching fifth grade at Piñon Elementary School for the last 10 years. She teaches science using experiential methods and materials provided by the LANL Foundation’s Inquiry Science Education Consortium (ISEC) and quickly emerged as a leader in the program. As a Science Literacy Coach at Piñon from 2011–2015, she helped implement the inquiry-based science curriculum in her school. She was selected as a member of the ISEC Teacher Leader Cadre (TLC) in 2016, receiving high-level training to serve as a year-round peer resource and to become a trainer during annual summer professional development offered to the eight participating school districts and two pueblo schools in Northern New Mexico.

“Accepting the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching has been an extremely humbling experience. The award is a testament to my passion for fostering a love for STEM education,” said Sharma. “My association with the LANL Foundation as an ISEC teacher, Science Literacy Coach and member of the Teacher Leader Cadre has been an influential and motivating factor in my development and success as a STEM educator. Receiving this highest honor bestowed by the United States government for K–12 math and science teaching, would not have been possible without the support of my family, instructional leaders, colleagues, and community partners.”

Since 1983, each President has recognized teachers from all 50 states who have been “models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.” The award comes with a certificate signed by the President of the United States, a trip to Washington D.C. to attend recognition events and professional development opportunities and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

State-Federal STEM Education Summit at NSF. (Photo: Courtesy of The White House)

White House group photo of PAEMST winners from across the United States. (Photo: Courtesy of The White House)

Breakfast meeting at the White House group photo of PAEMST winners across the United States. (Photo: Courtesy of The White House)

Delara Sharma (center) receiving her award from Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Dr. France A. Cordova, Director of the NSF. (Photo: Courtesy of The White House)

Awardees also join a collaborative network of outstanding educators who serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities and leaders in the improvement of math and science education. Since 1983, more than 4,700 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.

Students in Delara Sharma’s 2016 5th grade class at Piñon Elementary investigated the claim, “when salt dissolves in water, the salt is gone.” They measure the mass of a saltwater solution compared to the mass of plain water, then discuss their recorded data and conclusions using the FOSS Mixtures and Solutions module. (Photo: Courtesy of LANL Foundation, Andrea Multari)

The teacher recognition process begins with a nomination, followed by a rigorous application that includes written submissions, videos and classroom evaluations. Each nominee must prove mastery of grade-appropriate content, implementation of effective instructional methods, use of student assessments to evaluate and improve learning, reflective practice with self-improvement strategies and leadership in education outside the classroom.

Gwen Perea Warniment, Director of K–12 Programs at the LANL Foundation who oversees ISEC along with education partnerships and advocacy, nominated Sharma in 2016.

Among the nominees from throughout New Mexico, Sharma and Chrissy Romero, SFPS third grade teacher at Gonzales Community School, were the two finalists in the elementary science category.

“This award is meaningful because Delara is an inspiration to many of us,” said Perea Warniment. “She epitomizes grace and holds high expectations for all her students. She is constantly seeking to improve her practice and learn more. As a friend and colleague, I have enjoyed watching her leadership blossom and I am thrilled to celebrate her.”

Sharma serves on the Santa Fe County Spelling Bee Committee, SFPS STEM Advisory Committee, and is the Science Fair Coordinator at Piñon Elementary. Sharma also coordinates various STEM programs in her school. Cultivating student interest in computer programming, she also leads a school-wide Hour of Code and runs several afterschool Coding and Robotics Clubs. This year, her students participated in the Supercomputing Challenge and Roborave International robotics competition. Sharma also took two girls’ robotics teams to the VEX Robotics competition at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

Delara Sharma (center) leading a group of 5th grade teachers in a training of the FOSS Earth and Sun curriculum module during an ISEC Teachers’ Insitute. (Photo: Courtesy of LANL Foundation, Andrea Multari)

In addition to training with FOSS curriculum modules through ISEC, she has also facilitated professional learning for the New Mexico Public Education Department, SFPS faculty, New Mexico STEM Symposium and WestEd’s Making Sense of Science to transform the teaching practice and improve student engagement.

“Science is one class my students really look forward to,” said Sharma. “Just to see them excited about science and doing the investigations and tying in all the other subject matters makes me happy. The best thing about being a teacher is seeing the kids learn, grow and get it.”

Sharma earned a B.A. in English from the University of Delhi, a B.A. in education from Indira Gandhi National Open University and a M.A. in sociology from Pondicherry University in India and began her teaching career at Father Agnel School in New Delhi. She achieved National Board Certification in 2011 and holds a kindergarten through eighth grade teaching license with endorsements in reading, TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages) and gifted education.

More information about the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching may be found at www.paemst.org.