May 1, 2015
The Texas Medical
Association (TMA) named six Texas
science teachers winners of the 2015 TMA Ernest and Sarah Butler Awards for Excellence in Science
Teaching. Three first-place prizes were awarded today at TexMed, the association’s annual conference, in Austin. Three second-place awards will
be presented in upcoming local ceremonies. These educators help create tomorrow’s
physicians by inspiring students in the field of science.
Patricia Kassir of The Bendwood School in Houston, Joseph Morris of All Saints’
Episcopal School in Fort Worth, and Anna Loonam of Bellaire Senior High School in Bellaire are this year’s elementary, middle, and high school first-place winners. (See winner bios
below.)TMA awards each top
recipient a $5,000 cash prize, and each winner’s school receives a $2,000 resource grant toward its science programs.
winners are Laura Wilbanks of Whiteface Elementary School in Whiteface, Carol Raymond of E.A. Young
Academy in North Richland Hills, and
Theresa Lawrence of Friendswood High School in Friendswood. Second-place winners’ schools each receive a $1,000 resource
grant to enhance science classroom learning.
awards like this that encourage excellent science teaching are important, as only
32 percent of Texas eighth-graders have achieved proficiency in science, according
to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report.
Through this award, TMA hopes to help improve these numbers by recognizing
innovative teachers and providing them resources to continue motivating and
engaging students. Eventually, TMA believes, some of these inspired students
will choose medicine as a career. Some already have: Several TMA physician
leaders were once taught by teachers who later won this award.
professionals fromThe University of Texas Charles A. Dana Center chose finalists from all the nominees, and physicians from TMA’s
Educational Scholarship, Loan, and Awards Committee selected the winners.
Patricia Kassir —
Elementary School First-Place Winner
teaches the gifted and talented program for medical science to grades 3-5 at
The Bendwood School in Houston. She teaches because she wants to “improve the
lives of others and foster understanding.” Mrs. Kassir’s career spans decades,
disciplines, languages, and countries, including two years teaching English at
an Islamic school in Lebanon. An immigrant to America at the age of 7, Mrs.
Kassir speaks English, Spanish, French, and some Arabic, and is an expert at
reaching out and connecting to students regardless of their background or
socioeconomic status. Classes with Mrs. Kassir are filled with debates and interactive
labs, from “CSI”-style frog “autopsies” to a mock medical school. “A teacher
like Mrs. Kassir is a rarity,” says Jana Bassett, principal at The Bendwood
School. “We often joke that as we all age, her students will be addressing our
medical needs.” In no place is this more evident than Mrs. Kassir’s own children,
who are pursuing their own paths in science, the oldest of whom is a first-year
medical student at Baylor College of Medicine.
Joseph Morris — Middle School Winner
Mr. Morris teaches
seventh grade life science at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth. “I
want students to walk into my classroom and immediately become wide-eyed and
drawn to something that sparks their curiosity,” he says. “I want questions to
fill their minds like, ‘What is that? How does that work?’ and one of my favorites,
‘What is that smell?’ To which I always answer, ‘THAT… is the smell of FUN!’ ” His
dedication to his students extends outside the classroom. Together with another
All Saints’ teacher, Mr. Morris mentored the school’s Solar Car Club as they built
a solar-powered car and drove it from Texas to California for the national Solar
Car Challenge. During the two-year long project that earned the team a
second-place finish, Mr. Morris’ students learned valuable skills like
teamwork, problem solving, and fund raising. “He doesn’t just teach science,”
says fellow All Saints’ teacher Lyle Crossley, PhD. “Joe also models and
teaches character and integrity.”
Anna Loonam — High School Winner
Mrs. Loonam teaches advanced placement biology at Bellaire
Senior High School in Bellaire. She is described as a “legend” within the
Bellaire community. Mrs. Loonam encourages students to design their own science
experiments, cultivate plants on the school’s “green roof,” and create mini-movies
explaining difficult science concepts. “I firmly believe in providing students
with opportunities to ‘do science,’ ” she says. Each year, she introduces students
to the scientific community by taking them to the Sam Rhine Genetics Update
Conference, and hosting Genetics Night, where students explain their research
of a genetic disorder to peers, parents, teachers, doctors, medical students,
and administrators from Baylor College of Medicine. “As a medical school
teacher of a number of Mrs. Loonam’s former students, I have seen first-hand
that she is a transformative and innovative teacher who created an intellectual
legacy,” says Joseph Kass, MD, JD, a neurology professor at Baylor College of
Medicine and father to a student in Mrs. Loonam’s class.
The TMA Ernest and Sarah Butler Awards for Excellence in
Science Teaching are supported by the TMA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of
TMA, thanks to an endowment established by Dr. and Mrs. Ernest C. Butler of
Austin and additional gifts from physicians and their families.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation,
representing more than 48,000 physician and medical student members. It is
located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the
state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
TMA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the association and raises funds to
support the public health and science priority initiatives of TMA and the
family of medicine.
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Contact: Steve Levine (512) 370-1380; Cell: (512) 750-0971; e-mail: steve.levine[at]texmed[dot]org
Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; Cell: (512) 656-7320;