Douglas County teacher gets presidential honor

Q&A with Stephanie Kawamura of Pine Lane Elementary School

Posted 7/6/18

The federal government is recognizing a teacher from Douglas County for her work in the classroom. Stephanie Kawamura, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Pine Lane Elementary School in Parker, is …

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Douglas County teacher gets presidential honor

Q&A with Stephanie Kawamura of Pine Lane Elementary School

Posted

The federal government is recognizing a teacher from Douglas County for her work in the classroom.

Stephanie Kawamura, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Pine Lane Elementary School in Parker, is one of two teachers in Colorado to receive the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the highest honor awarded by the president to K-12 mathematics and science teachers.

Established by Congress in 1983, the award honors teachers who are leaders in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education and have implemented an exceptional instructional program.

As a recipient, Kawamura received a certificate signed by President Donald Trump and was flown to Washington, D.C. to attend a series of workshops. She is awaiting a $10,000 check from the National Science Foundation. She plans on using a portion in her classroom.

Kawamura teaches all subjects for fifth and sixth grade students in Douglas County School District's Discovery Program for the gifted and talented. She leads multiple after-school and summer enrichment programs, including Space Camp, Creative Writing Club and Math Masters. She also serves as a teacher liaison for the Space Foundation and has worked with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, where she piloted new science lessons while being filmed for professional development sessions for other educators, according to her bio.

In her free time, the Parker resident likes to spend time with her husband and their 6-year-old daughter. She also practices taekwondo and holds a third-degree black belt.

What was your experience like in school?

I was born in Tokyo and moved here when I was 3. I went to Dry Creek Elementary School in Centennial.

My elementary school years were the highlight of my education. I was at a school that had multiple grades in the classrooms and four teachers that we would move around to based on our level. I do that in my own four walls. The training I had in elementary school definitely prepared me for the job I have now.

I went to Colorado State University and got a bachelor's in science and human development and family studies. After that, I went to Metro State University for my teaching license and completed my student teaching training. I got my master's at the University of Northern Colorado in special education gifted and talented.

My first teaching job was in the Cherry Creek School District. I was a sub for about a year and a half, which led me to become a long-term sub for two gifted and talented classrooms that had yearlong school.

I've been at Pine Lane Elementary School in Parker for 18 years. I can't imagine not having this position.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I'm more of a facilitator. It's really important for me to include my students in my decisions, how we go about doing things. I'll tell them the state says we need to cover this and we work together on how to get there. I can't say I do this on everything, but if there is an opportunity, we are going to sit down and talk about it.

My goal is to make things as real as possible. Students are encouraged to discover. I'm not one to just give them an answer. I pose a question and let them figure it out.

My ultimate goal is when they walk out of my door they are an autonomous learner.

How do you feel about being a recipient of PAEMST?

The award itself validates that when you are passionate about math and science and help your students see that it's important, they are going to carry that with them. There are so many jobs right now in the STEM field that our students can be part of and really eat up.

I think students at a young age need to understand that science, math, technology and engineering are fun and exciting and there is so much opportunity for them to grow and blossom in those areas. What I think is really cool and a little scary is the majority of jobs they are going to be applying for don't even exist today.

I think that there are a lot of deserving teachers of this award. I'm blown away every day with the amazing ideas that my colleagues have and I know there are so many people out there that would benefit greatly by having this experience.

What keeps you going?

During my time at Pine Lane, every principal I've had has been extremely supportive and has believed in me and what I can do with the Discovery Program. Because of that, I've been given a lot of freedom to do what I think is right. I've also worked with some of the most amazing teachers under the sun.

Ultimately what keeps my fire burning is the creativity and excitement from the students. They are my pride and joy.

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