BROOKSVILLE — Ruth Markham's students were busy organizing their science folders when the door to her classroom opened and in walked district superintendent Bryan Blavatt, assistant superintendent Sonya Jackson, curriculum supervisor Jeff Yungmann and School Board members.
Markham, a science resource teacher at Chocachatti Elementary School, was shocked when Yungmann handed her a dish garden colored with fresh flowers and told her it was from the National Council of Science Supervisors to help her celebrate her selection as one of three Florida finalists in the 2010 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Markham is vying for the award for outstanding work in the classroom and as a professional in the K-6 division. The National Science Foundation administers the awards on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
"I don't know what to say," the astonished Markham said.
Her class applauded, and Blavatt said: "The kids all know she's great. We're really pleased. We feel very fortunate we have great teachers. It's really important to have a love of science."
It's the teachers, he said, that impart that love.
Markham also was presented with a $50 dinner gift card from the National Council of Science Teachers and a certificate of appreciation from the district.
Markham was nominated by a friend, and then submitted an application packet, accompanied by a 45-minute video of her students at work in the classroom. They did a hands-on lab to design and test a boat.
"It really turned out well," Markham said.
Next, a national selection committee will review her application. The panel will recommend up to one math finalist and science finalist per state or jurisdiction.
Finalists will be submitted to the president and invited to the White House for awards and recognition.
As a state finalist, Markham will be recognized at the Florida Association of Science Teachers fall conference in St. Augustine. The Florida finalist chosen to go to Washington, D.C., will be announced in the spring.
Lilia Goode, 10, one of Markham's students, said she thinks it's "cool" that her teacher won the award.
Brianna Sessa, 10, said, "She's nice, and she teaches science very good. She deserves it."
T.J. Kessel, 10, agreed.
"She definitely deserves it. She makes science fun. Seems like you're not even learning," T.J. said.
Lindsey Cirigliano, 10, is another fan.
"She's a cool teacher," Lindsey said, "and she makes everything sound exciting."
After the dignitaries left, one of Markham's students yelled out, "Group hug!" The children piled on a grinning Markham, who was feeling the love.