President Bush commended Grant Elementary School teacher Gail Underwood in a citation “for embodying excellence in teaching, for devotion to the learning needs of the students, and for upholding the high standards that exemplify American education at its finest.”
For that, Underwood, who teaches math, won the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for Missouri and a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
“It’s really a great honor, and it just speaks very highly of our district and all we do for professional development and the kids who made me think about math,” Underwood said in a telephone interview from the balcony of a state department building. “The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and they are just treating is like royalty.”
President Bush announced the winners Tuesday — two from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Territories and U.S. Department of Defense Schools.
“She’s outstanding in the way she’s able to get the kids to use critical thinking skills,” said Grant Principal Crystal Church.
Underwood, who has taught at Grant for 11 years, and her husband were flown to Washington, D.C., last weekend for an all-expenses-paid trip. She is one of 95 winners who will spend the week attending special events, meetings with fellow educators and seminars about teaching techniques. The teachers will also tour the White House, the executive offices and several museums.
The highlight of the week-long celebration will be tonight’s banquet and award ceremony where honorees will meet President Bush. Each winner will receive a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Teachers nominated for the award must go through an extensive application process.
The district’s math coordinator, Linda Coutts, nominated Underwood, who submitted the lesson “How Much Candy Did Uncle Johnny Eat,” which uses her real-life Aunt Mary’s candy store as its setting.
“Aunt Mary sends candy to the school,” Church said. “It’s amazing because I’ll go in there and the kids are doing multiplication, division, addition, using various methods to reach the answer. It makes it very interesting and makes it real.”
The Missouri math finalists, notified in August, were Underwood, a teacher from St. Joseph and Fairview Elementary fifth-grade teacher, Sharon Jacoby.