Librarian Michelle Harris was the only elementary school educator to receive recognition at the 2015 STEM Educator Awards. She was presented with $500 to help start a STEM program for the library at Lulu Ross Elementary School, located in Milford, DE. The Delaware STEM Educator Award is given to a teacher that is passionate about STEM education, demonstrating exemplary innovation through their lessons and student interactions. In conjunction with the prize she was given by the STEM council, Harris was awarded with a second $500 accolade from Ashland Inc., which was used to purchase additional program materials. Although Harris did not place in the competition, the recognition and consolation compensation is an impressive accomplishment.
The other elementary school competitors did not have the same unique advantage as Harris. As the librarian, she interacts with students from each grade level. In an interview she explained what set her apart from the other educators.
“Probably the biggest thing that's different is I have the opportunity to see all the students versus just one classroom of 30 kids. So, when you look at the fact that throughout the course of the year, 600 students, 600 plus students at this point, are having the opportunity to have different STEM lessons. It’s reaching every grade level, [every] background, girls, boys, the minorities; it touches base [with] everybody,” Harris said.
Harris worked as a librarian for 10 years in Smyrna, DE before transferring to her current position. For six weeks out of the school year she was able to work extensively with students from each grade. During that time they would work on a specific STEM unit. Instead of doing mini lessons, like the ones usually taught during the allotted 45 minute library sessions, Harris was able to spend more time on bigger projects, such as the third grade’s boat and bridge building lesson. Harris’ goal is to have a library program at Lulu Ross that can be as successful as the one she started while working in Smyrna. All of her winnings were spent on STEM focused materials to help jumpstart her aspiration.
Despite her obvious triumphs, Harris did not intend on becoming a STEM focused educator. In fact, before taking the library position at Smyrna, she was a language arts and social studies teacher. But, when her previous employers asked her to provide an additional course in the library, she looked to her husband for suggestions.
“We [said], ‘what else can we do with these kids?’ My husband teaches a STEM concentration. He’s the one that got me thinking about it,” Harris said.
Since the 2015 awards, Harris’ students, as well as her colleagues, are responding well to their new STEM project materials. The school’s art teacher, for example, has used the library’s new gravity kits with her classes. The exciting new items that were debuted last school year have some of the children already requesting specific lessons, Harris said.
“The best response I got from the [new] coding [lesson] was from a student. He took time to write me a note, and said that he did not really have any hobbies and he struggles to find things he likes, but he loves the coding. It was clear and simple ‘Thanks for introducing me to coding, I finally found something I like to do,’” Harris said.
Pleased with her students’ interest and new appreciation for STEM education, Harris hopes to continue to grow the budding program at Lulu Ross. With the new school year just beginning, she is excited to make learning fun for her kids. The STEM Educator’s award gave Mrs. Harris and the students at Lulu Ross elementary the materials and inspiration needed to learn and appreciate the importance of STEM education.
“I truly love what I teach. I really do,” Harris said.
My name is Mrs. Harris and I am the Librarian at Lulu Ross! I attended the University of Delaware and have spent the last ten years teaching in Smyrna. I enjoy traveling, fishing, visiting the beach, and playing with my two little girls. I also LOVE to READ. Books help me to escape to faraway places that otherwise I would never see.
Giavana Suraci is a senior strategic communications major at Temple University. She was born and raised in Philadelphia and plans to remain in the city. After graduation, she hopes to work for the Philadelphia Phillies in their public relations department.