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Creative "risk-taker' wins math teaching award

Pasco teacher Sandy Schneider has won the Presidential Award for Science and Mathematic Teaching from the National Science Foundation.

Schneider, who teaches eighth-grade mathematics at Seven Springs Middle School, will spend a week in June in Washington, D.C., where she and other state winners will meet President Clinton.

Schneider was teaching math at Northwest Elementary School last year when she was nominated for the national award by district math supervisor John Geiger.

Schneider could not be reached for comment Tuesday because she was on her way to class at the University of South Florida, where she is working on an advanced degree. Seven Springs principal Roni Sushko said Schneider was elated upon hearing the news Tuesday afternoon that she would represent Florida nationally.

"She heard at about 2:15, and she called (the office from her classroom), and she was just screaming in the phone," Sushko said.

Several months ago, Schneider knew she was among three Florida finalists. The application process for the national competition was arduous, involving detailed checks of finalists' backgrounds.

After she filled everything out and sent it in, Schneider was contacted when part of her paperwork was missing, Sushko said, adding that the teacher decided at that point, "I'm doing this for naught."

Clearly, though, she wasn't.

Sushko and Northwest Elementary principal Renee Sedlack said Schneider is deserving of the national honor.

"She knows how to motivate students," Sushko said. "She makes math a relevant part of their lives."

Schneider now teaches algebra and pre-algebra in an inviting classroom that is decorated in a "very homelike" fashion, Sushko said.

Previously, Schneider was at Northwest Elementary, but wanted to switch to teaching middle school because youngsters at that age are at an important crossroads, and "she wanted to be part of the influence" on them, Sushko said.

Although Schneider switched schools, Northwest also was basking in the glow of her national honor.

Sedlack described Schneider as a "risk taker" who continually develops creative ways to teach mathematics.

"She puts in endless hours of her own time," Sedlack said.

Schneider also is able to successfully answer an age-old question posed by students, Sedlack said.

"A lot of kids say, "Why do I have to know this?' She shows them why."