May 27, 2020
As physicians, epidemiologists, and health care workers lead the fight against a global pandemic, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) named nine Texas science teachers winners of its 2020 Ernest and Sarah Butler Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching. This program year marks the 30th anniversary of the awards, designed to motivate teachers to inspire future doctors and scientists.
TMA awards teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for playing an instrumental role in stirring students’ interest and excitement in science, with the hope they’ll enter the medical field. Teachers receive cash prizes, and their schools receive cash resource grants to enhance their science program. Since the awards began in 1990, TMA has awarded more than $607,000 to 274 exemplary science teachers across Texas.
Among this year’s winners, physicians named an overall winner, which confers an additional cash award. TMA also presented awards to three second-place and three rookie award winners. (Rookie awards are given to science teachers with fewer than seven years of teaching experience.) TMA and TMA Foundation physician leaders presented this year’s teacher awards virtually earlier this month because of social distancing guidelines.
TMA selected Adam Unlu of Harmony School of Excellence in Laredo as the overall winner. He receives $5,000 in addition to his first-place prize.
Clara Herrera – Clayton Elementary School, Austin
Cynthia Hopkins – Kaffie Middle School, Corpus Christi
Adam Unlu – Harmony School of Excellence (high school), Laredo
(See winner biographies below.) TMA awards each honoree a $6,000 cash prize; winners’ schools also receive a $2,000 resource grant to enhance science classroom learning.
Mark Rogers – Austin Achieve Elementary School, Austin
Cynthia Duke – Manvel Junior High School, Manvel Jamie Holbrook – Saint Mary’s Hall, San Antonio
Second-place winners receive a $4,000 cash prize, and their schools receive a $1,000 resource grant.
Rookie Award Winners:
Lisa Lim – Anne Sullivan Elementary School, Sugar Land
Erin Wise – West Memorial Junior High School, Katy
Sadaf Syed – Lovejoy High School, Lucas
Rookie award winners receive a $1,500 cash prize, and their schools receive a $1,000 resource grant.
Clara Herrera – First-Place Elementary School Winner – Austin
Ms. Herrera teaches fifth-grade science at Clayton Elementary School in Austin.
Her science teaching began as a parent volunteer at her kids’ school. Students knew her as “Clara, the Science Lady” with her tie-dyed lab coat and penciled-in moustache. A professional journalist at the time, Ms. Herrera noticed gaps in science education. That prompted her to switch her career to science teaching, and she has since dedicated herself to enriching and challenging her students.
Ms. Herrera’s students conduct weekly experiments and record their data in journals. Many tally 100 entries of findings in a year. She utilizes innovative techniques to test her students’ knowledge, including songs, cheers, and dance moves. She brings science to life for her students with stories of her own science-based excursions, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
A colleague, April Silva, said, “[Clara] is one of those teachers whose passion transcends the classroom. Her students see that and aspire to achieve to their fullest potential.”
Cynthia Hopkins – First-Place Middle School Winner – Corpus Christi
Dr. Hopkins teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at Kaffie Middle School in Corpus Christi. She aims to ignite a passion in her students to become lifelong learners. She challenges her students, several of whom have disabilities, to learn from each other.
Dr. Hopkins uses scientific modeling, coding, collaborative interaction, and other real-world methods to help her students grasp concepts. She created the school’s robotics clubs, so popular many students consider them their “second home.” Dr. Hopkins’ development of the school science fair program led to historic achievements for some of her students. A few competitors captured their division at the Texas State Science
Fair – the first such win ever for the school or its district. One student she mentored into high school went on to become a finalist in the international science fair competition.
“Her classroom is engaging, and the way she approaches topics makes a difference in both the way students learn and behave. She is innovative,” said fellow teacher Michele Lane-Heidari.
Adam Unlu – Overall Winner and First-Place High School Winner – Laredo
Mr. Unlu teaches 11th-and 12th-grade physics at Harmony School of Excellence in Laredo. He encourages his students to “Choose to make mistakes, do it often, dive in; don’t raise your hand and ask someone else.”
In the classroom, Mr. Unlu highlights vocabulary words during demonstrations so students have a better understanding of the newly introduced topic. One innovative method he uses is project-based learning, instruction that addresses core content through rigorous, relevant, hands-on learning. Students use technology to communicate, collaborate, research, analyze, create, and publish their work. For example, students might produce and post audio book reviews, and invite responses from a partner class in another city or country.
Outside the classroom, Mr. Unlu founded a Saturday Engineering Club. He secured grants to purchase 3D printers and other materials, which the club used to build a solar-powered car in 2018 that students drove from Fort Worth to California. The club also modified small battery-operated cars to give mobility to children who cannot walk and are too young to operate their wheelchairs. In addition, Mr. Unlu and his students created devices to allow disabled pets to become mobile.
Fellow educators describe Mr. Unlu as someone who serves his students in and out of the classroom. “Mr. Unlu and his students perform valuable services and help the community better understand the place that science has in our world,” said one colleague.
Mr. Unlu values his students’ enthusiasm. “At the point when your students ‘get it,’ when their faces grin since they accomplished something extraordinary, when they keep in touch with you in an email disclosing to you the amount they adore your class – these are the prizes that each educator gets,” he said. “As a physics teacher, seeing my students’ names recorded as an award or at least honor winner for competition, scholarships, or college acceptance is the best reward for me.”
The 2020 TMA Ernest and Sarah Butler Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching are made possible by a grant from the Texas Medical Association Foundation, which is supported through an endowment generously established at the TMA Foundation by Dr. and Mrs. Ernest C. Butler and gifts from physicians and their families.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 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 population health, science, and quality-of-care priority initiatives of TMA and the family of medicine.
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Contact: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320
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