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Meet six of the country’s best STEM schools

The event was hosted at the esteemed Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

It’s a modern Cinderella story: Representatives from 18 optimistic, hardworking school communities were honored with a fancy black tie party Sept. 20, with critics of public education blissfully absent for the night.

In today’s political climate, with policy makers and pundits quick to condemn educators, it might be hard to imagine that teachers, administrators, and school board members would be lavishly celebrated for their accomplishments.

But in an example of how business can make a real impact on education, Intel recently hosted its 2011 Schools of Distinction Awards (SODA), proving that respect for educators and their work hasn’t completely disappeared.

Hosted at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., the event featured men wearing tuxes, women in sparkling dresses, and a string quartet playing jaunty classical pieces next to a champagne bar.

“This is my first time coming to these awards,” said one of Intel’s math program staffers. “It’s so nice to see everyone so happy and excited, especially the way things are today for education.”

After the reception, it was time to follow the crowd—a mix of teachers, school board members, school administrators, corporate sponsors, and a few reporters—from one marbled floor to another, finally entering a dining room resplendent in green hues, crystal chandeliers, and enormous red rose table arrangements.

“I flew in from Ireland just last night,” said one of Intel’s communications directors. “I didn’t want to miss this.”

“Truly, every educator should experience the kind of appreciation Intel shows for schools,” said another teacher.

But these 18 schools, as Intel made sure to highlight in its post-dinner presentation, are special: Not only do they specialize in math and science curricula, but their students achieve high proficiency in STEM subjects—good for Intel’s future hiring, and good for the U.S. in general.

“Successful math and science programs serve as models for schools across the country,” says Intel. “By replicating proven programs, schools everywhere can reinvigorate their own mathematics and science programs to inspire the next generation of scientists and mathematicians.”

Every year, Intel honors U.S. schools demonstrating excellence in math and science education through “innovative teaching and learning environments.” To be considered an Intel School of Distinction, schools must develop an environment and curriculum that meet or exceed benchmarks put forth by national math and science content standards.

Up to three schools at each level—elementary, middle, and high school—are named as finalists in both the math and science categories. The 18 schools receive a cash grant of $5,000 from the Intel Foundation and a trip to Washington, D.C., for a four-member team from their school and district. Six winners are then selected from the finalists to receive a $10,000 cash grant. One of these winners is selected as the “Star Innovator” and receives a $15,000 grant. All five winning schools and the Star Innovator also receive products and services from program sponsors.

This year, the six winners are:

  • Crellin Elementary School (mathematics), Oakland, Md.
  • Valley Christian Junior High School (mathematics), San Jose, Calif.
  • Byron Senior High School (mathematics), Byron, Minn.
  • Farmington View Elementary School (science), Hillsboro, Ore.
  • Preston Middle School (science), Fort Collins, Colo.
  • Lynbrook High School (science), San Jose, Calif.

The star innovator is Valley Christian Junior High.

For detailed information about the winners and their exemplary curricula, click here.

All of the winners “demonstrate excellence in math and science education, and their ability to promote students’ problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills areas—called 21st-century skills by educators,” said Intel.

Additional sponsors of the 2011 SODA include SMART Technologies, SAS Curriculum Pathways, Pearson, Dell, BrainHoney, BrainWare Safari, I-CAN (Internet Community Action Network), Knowledge Delivery Systems, and LanSchool.

The best part of this Cinderella story is that the fairy tale didn’t end at midnight.

It’s not just the cash and prizes that are helpful, explained guest speaker Paul Karafiol, math department member at Walter Payton College Prep High School, Intel’s 2010 Star Innovator winner.

“While the money can pay for staff [development], new student programs, and community events, some of the most memorable and impacting consequences of being a SODA winner are the new relationships we have with others. For example, we were visited in January by President Hu Jintao of China to take a look at our programs and specifically our AP Chinese classes. Additionally, he invited 20 faculty and students to China for the upcoming summer. We took him up on the offer,” said Karafiol.

Karafiol then discussed, and showed slides of, his school delegation’s trip to China, meeting Chinese teachers and students and developing a relationship that is now continuing across the ocean.

“That’s what we want to have happen as a result of these awards,” said Paige Johnson, global director of K-12 education at Intel. “We want you to be an example for others, to reach out to the community; we’ll also be using you as a show piece for how other schools might build on your excellence.”

Applications for the 2012 Intel Schools of Distinction Awards are due February 23. The applications can be found here.


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