Gastineau Elementary School teacher Jennifer Thompson won $10,000 and was recognized by President George W. Bush as one of the nation's top teachers. Then she got a bonus.
Meeting dozens of other recognized educators was the real prize of the 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, she said.
"I now have this network of teachers in all 50 states," Thompson said. "I think that is how teachers become better teachers, is by networking. What will continue my work is my connection with other teachers."
Thompson was the only science teacher from Alaska among 93 in the United States to receive the nation's highest award for science and math teachers last Thursday at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
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"My family got to come, so I was thrilled to have my mom and dad there and my (two) kids," she said.
"We're incredibly pleased," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said of Thompson's award. "It's one more example of the wonderful staff that we have in the Juneau School District and national recognition of the hard work they do."
On Friday the educators toured the White House before a group photo was taken with Bush.
"Pretty soon, down the hall came Laura Bush and then the president," Thompson said. "He was very friendly and congratulated us."
Along with the celebratory events, the teachers also received professional development training and played tourist in Washington, she said.
Thompson visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where she picked up some information for her kindergarten and first grade multi-age class.
"They were very excited ... I brought back some stuff on airplanes and rockets," she said. "I just found that really exciting."
It was especially gratifying to be recognized for teaching math and science to young pupils, Thompson said.
"I find it exciting that we are teaching significant math and science in early childhood classrooms," she said. The students can use those skills throughout their education.
"This is a very prestigious award," Cowan said. "It's significant that it's going to a kindergarten teacher and is a real testament to her instructional expertise."
Thompson said she now has to spend some time figuring out what to do with the $10,000.
"I definitely will buy science materials for my classroom," she said. "I want to think about it and be thoughtful about what I can do with (the money)."
One idea is buying a "stream table" for her classroom so kids have an interactive way of exploring the movement of sand and water, Thompson said.
Thompson, who will turn 50 in June, began teaching when she was 40 years old and says she intends to spend many more years in the classroom.
"I love what I do," she said.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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