By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
MERRITT ISLAND -- For the past 16 years, Barbara Wilcox has been shaping the young minds of Brevard County students, guiding them on the pathway to success.
Recently, the kindergarten teacher at Tropical Elementary in Merritt Island received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for her hard work and dedication to her students.
Presented annually, the Presidential Award is given to outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade science and math teachers from across the country. Recipients of the award are selected by a panel of scientists, mathematicians and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.
"My application was scored on how well I met the following five dimensions:" Ms. Wilcox said, "Mastery of science content appropriate for the grade-level taught; use of instructional methods and strategies that support student learning; effective use of student assessment to evaluate, monitor and improve student learning; reflective practice and life-long learning to improve teaching and student learning; and leadership in education outside the classroom."
Ms. Wilcox added that she made a video, as part of her application process, which included a hands-on lesson in her classroom, as she taught her students about camouflage and how animal's colors help protect them from predators.
"Then, I took the kindergarten students into our butterfly garden to find hidden frogs, as we were studying amphibians at the time," she added. "Students needed to determine if they were camouflaged or bright-colored to warn predators not to eat them."
As a kindergarten teacher, Ms. Wilcox faces a bevy of challenges each day.
"Considering the fact that most of the children's attention span is about the length of their age, that makes for a lot of lessons and activities in a day," Ms. Wilcox explained. "This year is more challenging than past years, as I am teaching multi-age, multi-grade-level -- a first for me."
In addition to her kindergarten students, Ms. Wilcox is also teaching "T.K.," or transitional kindergarten, which is for students who have successfully completed kindergarten, but need a little more time to develop maturity.
"T.K. gives them time to grow socially," Ms. Wilcox added.
With a wonderful group of children, of whom she is thrilled to teach and develop into highly successful citizens, Ms. Wilcox said there are many rewards of her job.
"The most rewarding thing is definitely the students' excitement," she said. "I just love hearing them they love school and me. Knowing you're making a difference, notes from the parents about how much their child enjoys coming to school and they are so glad I am their child's teacher. It's precisely this inspiration that enables me to think of all the wonderful, innovative projects I've been implementing through the years."
As part of her award, Ms. Wilcox will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation, which she may use at her discretion. She will also be invited to Washington, D.C., for an awards' ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits from members of Congress and the administration.
Tropical Elementary School principal Samantha Alison applauded Ms. Wilcox for her efforts.
"Our school community could not be more proud of Barbara Wilcox, as she is honored with this prestigious award," Ms. Alison said. "Ms. Wilcox is passionate about teaching and is incredibly dedicated to her students, as well as her profession."
Ms. Alison said that, as an active member of the Tropical Elementary faculty, Ms. Wilcox enthusiastically spearheads a variety of school-wide environmental science projects and inspires her fellow staff members and students to participate in these activities.
Ed Short, elementary science resource teacher for Brevard Public Schools, also praised Ms. Wilcox, stating that she has a great drive to be involved in positive changes with both students and other teachers.
"She has taken on leadership opportunities in grant writing, training and mentoring other teachers," Mr. Short said. "She has written and received many grants that provide unique materials and learning opportunities for her students. We are so proud of Barbara for achieving this prestigious honor and we are so fortunate to have her teach very lucky students in one of our schools."
Ms. Wilcox said it has been a very humbling experience to be recognized among the ranks of outstanding educators, who inspire and impact the nation's students.
"This recognition challenges me to stretch even further in developing real-life opportunities for students to actively engage in learning," she added. "I am honored, not just for myself, but for all the people, who have inspired and supported me. It is through this collaboration that I am the teacher I am today."
As for her plans after she returns from Washington, D.C., this spring, Ms. Wilcox said she is quite excited.
"This semester, I have a senior intern from the University of Central Florida, and I am excited to be her mentor, while we provide my students with a variety of learning experiences," Ms. Wilcox said. "Some of my favorite science topics are in the coming months, and my students are very interested in science. I just love seeing their growth and knowing that I am helping them to become productive thinkers and learners."