Olathe school district teachers Patrick Flynn and Jeremi Wonch spend their days educating young minds. Now, the positive impact they make on their students in Olathe is being noticed in Washington, D.C.
Both Flynn of Olathe East High School and Wonch of Indian Trail Middle School have received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. They’re the only two teachers from Kansas and among 108 math and science teachers nationwide to receive the honor.
The award is given each year to outstanding math and science teachers, chosen by a panel of K-12 scientists, mathematicians and educators. Teachers must submit a recording showing them teaching a lesson to students, followed by a 14-page paper. Each year, the award alternates between recognizing kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers and seventh- through twelfth-grade teachers.
Flynn and Wonch actually found out they were semifinalists in the spring of 2013 but were only notified this summer that they had been selected for the award.
Both teachers will receive a $10,000 prize from the National Science Foundation and a trip to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony.
Flynn considers an additional prize to be the honor of being included in the same company as some amazing educators from across the country.
“It’s humbling to be on a list with all of these other people that you view as really great teachers,” said Flynn. “Sometimes, as a teacher you are your own worst critic, so then to see your name on this list is really humbling.”
Flynn, a 20-year teaching veteran, has taught at Olathe East for seven years. He currently teaches Advanced Placement Calculus and Algebra 1, subjects he says he really enjoys.
Flynn also enjoys presenting the information in new ways to help make the students successful in their learning. This year, he tried a new teaching technique: forming small learning communities among his students where they could help and encourage each other as they learned new math concepts.
“Math students will always say to me, ‘When am I going to use this?’” said Flynn. “But I am really teaching them how to think abstractly about something, not just algorithms to follow. I’m teaching them to think and to find the why behind the how.”
Like Flynn, Wonch of Indian Trail Middle School also feels strongly that her job is to educate a new generation of problem solvers. Wonch does that through her work as both a seventh-grade life science teacher and as a coach for the school’s Science Olympiad program, which has qualified for the state competition the last five years. This year, Wonch also was one of the district’s semi-finalists for the Kansas Teacher of the Year award.
“I am helping kids to understand science concepts and how to apply them to whatever they do throughout their whole life,” Wonch said. “Kids need knowledge but they need to know how to use and apply that knowledge too.”
Wonch brings to her students 26 years of teaching experience, the last five of which have been at Indian Trail. She has a true love for science and finds ways to foster a love for it in her students both in and out of the classroom. This summer, she hosted a two-week Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) camp for girls to get them as excited about science as she is.
“I want to give kids opportunities and to help them see science careers,” said Wonch.
Like most teachers, Flynn and Wonch shy away from being singled out for accolades like the Presidential Award. Both say they were shocked to be nominated by fellow educators and have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback that they have received from past students upon hearing the news of their awards.
“You don’t get into teaching for that reason, but it’s great to hear the feedback,” said Flynn. “You really don’t expect a thank you.”
“It is really nice to be recognized for the hard work we do and to know that we are cared about and appreciated,” Wonch said.