In Christi Mendoza’s seventh- and eighth-grade science classes at Las Brisas Academy it isn’t all rocket science...but it is ALWAYS science.
And because of her dedication to teaching, the 21- year educator was named as a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) winner, specifically as Arizona’s recipient of the award in the science category. Mendoza was named a winner in 2019 but wasn't honored until this year.
“A lot of things went that way because of COVID,” she said in a recent interview. “But it’s an honor. There are a lot of fabulous teachers out there who have been working just as hard.”
The yearly honor is judged by a stream of experts in both education and science, and sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Mendoza’s application made its way up the ladder, finally landing on the Resolute Desk in the White House Oval Office.
It wasn’t until two years into her teaching career that Mendoza got a crack at teaching science, and she never looked back. “It’s my passion,” she said. “It’s the best subject to teach. You get to do a lot of hands-on things, you get to do a lot of inquiry, and it’s really important.”
Mendoza likes to point out that science isn’t regulated to a classroom, that it is, in fact, part of everyday life, whether it’s consumer decision about what technology to purchase, or the chemistry involved in preparing a meal. Science, she said, teaches students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and to ask the right questions to develop innovative solutions to a wide array of issues.“We know that not all students will become scientists or engineers, but they need to be science literate,” Mendoza said.
But those students who do decide to pursue science may be writing their own ticket to success.
“I know how important that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pipeline is,” Mendoza said. “We have to get our middle school students engaged in science, math and engineering because those are the jobs of the future, and a high demand for the skills that go with them.”
In Mendoza’s classroom, that doesn’t seem to be a problem.
As the Nation's Highest Honors for STEM, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) recognizes those teachers who have both deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to be successful in those areas and to their profession.