By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 6, 2014
HAPEVILLE—Teacher Jeanne Rast of St. John the Evangelist School will travel to Washington, D.C., in March to receive a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Rast was one of two Georgia educators selected to receive the award. She won in the math category, while Christy Garvin of Vaughan Elementary in Powder Springs was selected as the statewide science winner.
An educator for more than 30 years, Rast didn’t initially plan on being a teacher. Her undergraduate degree is in mathematics, and she started applying for jobs in computer programming after college.
After taking a job teaching high school math and coaching varsity basketball for one year, Rast told the principal she wouldn’t be returning.
“However, after six weeks in a job at an actuarial office, I went back to the school and asked for my teaching job,” said Rast. “Since then it has never entered my mind to change professions. It was the students that inspired me, and still do.”
On Dec. 20, 2013, President Barack Obama named 102 mathematics and science teachers as recipients of the prestigious honor. The awardees represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The honor is awarded each year to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers. A panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators select the winners following an initial selection process at the state level.
Winners receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. They also are invited to Washington March 2-5 for an awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and the administration.
“These teachers are inspiring today’s young students to become the next generation of American scientists, mathematicians, and innovators,” President Obama said in a statement. “Through their passion and dedication, and by sharing their excitement about science, technology, engineering, and math, they are helping us build a promising future for all our children.”
Excellent math and science teachers, exemplified by these awardees, are critical to getting more students engaged in the increasingly important science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
Karen Vogtner, St. John the Evangelist principal, nominated Rast for the award. Vogtner praised Rast for being committed to helping other teachers with professional development to create educators who are “passionate about how children think.”
As part of the selection process, Rast had to submit a recorded classroom lesson.
Rast emphasizes that all students can learn math.
“They may not learn in the same way or the same amount of time, but they can learn. Kids need to be given the regular opportunity to make sense of math and make connections among concepts,” she said. “Mathematics is not a collection of rules and procedures. Math makes sense, and it must be the kids that make sense of the math.”
According to Rast, the environment in the Hapeville Catholic school also helps students and teachers succeed by celebrating their differences.
“The school is a wonderful community of students, teachers and parents who support each other and believe in following the teachings of Jesus,” she said. “The school motto of ‘Reverence, Respect and Responsibility’ is an important part of our daily lives.”
Rast has spent the last 20 years at St. John the Evangelist School and previously taught at the Howard School and the Lovett School, both in Atlanta.
As the math and science lab coordinator, Rast teaches mathematics classes daily and collaborates with all teachers to teach hands-on mathematics and science lessons.
Rast’s enthusiasm and love of mathematics is communicated through involvement in mathematics competitions, games and special projects. For several years, she hosted a weeklong mathematics camp where students engaged in hands-on learning of special topics, games and technology.
Rast has presented many sessions on teaching mathematics at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and at Georgia Middle School Association conferences.
She has a B.A. in mathematics from The University of the South, M.Ed. in special education, and a Ph.D. in mathematics education from Georgia State University. She is a certified mathematics education teacher, an adjunct professor at Atlanta Metropolitan College and consultant for Pearson Achievement Solutions.
“Winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is an endorsement of the many educators who have influenced and challenged me over the years,” said Rast. “The award is validation that what we do as teachers is important work. In addition to my colleagues, I have also learned from students who shared with me their thinking and perspectives on math.”
Nominations for the 2014 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are open through April 1. For more information, visit www.paemst.org.