Powell science teacher receives Presidential Award for Excellence

Posted 10/22/19

When Necole Hanks first learned she was being considered for the nation’s highest honor for science teachers, her initial reaction was disbelief — and then silence.

Hanks …

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Powell science teacher receives Presidential Award for Excellence

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When Necole Hanks first learned she was being considered for the nation’s highest honor for science teachers, her initial reaction was disbelief — and then silence.

Hanks couldn’t talk about the exciting news with her fellow teachers, friends or students. The nomination process needed to be kept confidential, she was told, so she could not share the news with anyone outside of her immediate family.

“I was completely bursting with anticipation, excitement and wonder,” said Hanks, who teaches sixth-grade science at Powell Middle School. “Unfortunately, I had to hold that all in until the official White House announcement had been made.”

That announcement came last week: Hanks received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, described as “the highest recognition that a mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States.”

“I am truly honored and extremely humbled by a recognition of this magnitude,” she said. “It is all very surreal to be honored this way at the national level. I am still a little overwhelmed by it all.”

Hanks traveled to Washington, D.C. last week, where she and other award recipients were immersed in professional development around America’s strategy for STEM

education (science, technology, engineering and math).

Her time in D.C. also included an awards dinner at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a recognition ceremony at the Department of the Interior and a recognition breakfast at the historic Willard Hotel, followed by a tour of the White House.

Hanks and fellow honorees received a certificate signed by President Donald Trump and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Recipients also had group pictures with Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and attended an expo where they networked with STEM education professionals. Coincidentally, the U.S. Geological Survey highlighted the explorations of the city of Powell’s namesake, John Wesley Powell, at the event; Hanks said it “was pretty exciting to share that connection.”

During one discussion, a panelist shared a quote from Maya Angelou that really resonated with Hanks: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

“I am now even more inspired than ever to keep striving to encourage STEM education for all and never stop growing as a learner and educator,” she said.

Hanks is a “true life-long learner,” said Powell Middle School Principal Kyle Rohrer.

“She reads, researches, shares, and is constantly exploring how she may be able to do things just a little bit better,” Rohrer said. “... She constantly searches for new ways to engage her students and help them to share in the passion of learning and science much like she does.”

Hanks said she loves sharing that passion for learning with students. She tells them that science is “the absolute best subject.”

“... Because it is where the application of math, gathering evidence from reading, communicating through written expression and sharing through technology all converge to help identify and solve problems that matter to us all,” she said.

Rohrer said Hanks is willing to try new ideas in order to reach all kids, and goes the extra mile to prepare lessons, labs and experiments to give students a hands-on experience with science.

“I love teaching science at Powell Middle School because every day I get to watch students become world changers through their quest to answer ‘What if …’” Hanks said.

Hanks started as a substitute teacher for the district in 2006-07, and then was hired as a Title I aide at the middle school in 2007. She officially got her own classroom in the fall of 2010.

She was recognized as Park 1’s district teacher of the year in 2017-18.

“So this is yet another testament to the work and dedication Mrs. Hanks puts toward her profession and in her classes,” Rohrer said.

Hanks thanked all of her mentors, including Wendy Smith and Tom Stanley who nominated her for this award, and Jason Sleep for hiring her and writing so many recommendations. She also thanked Jeb Schenck for mentoring her throughout her student teaching, as well as Ray Bieber, Richard Garlish, Steve Lensegrav and Zac Opps for their continued support.

Hanks said she’s learned from all of her colleagues at PMS and PHS.

“You all have made me a better teacher,” she said, thanking Park 1 staff for their kind words.

Hanks also expressed appreciation to her friends and family.

“Most of all, thank you to my daughters, Danna and Maddy, for believing in me and for your unconditional love,” she said. “[And] my husband, Bill, for suggesting I become a teacher to begin with, and all his love and support.”

Fellow Wyoming educators Amy Kassel of Cheyenne, Helen Ommen of Laramie and Jim Stith of Newcastle also received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and were recognized in D.C. last week.

“These four teachers are an inspiration to students and colleagues,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in a statement. “They are true leaders.”

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