In July, two south Charlotte teachers will go on an all-expense-paid trip to Jersey City, N.J., for a week of intensive math and science training, with the goal of bringing back new ideas to students.
The Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy was started by profession golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy. In cooperation with oil and energy firm ExxonMobil, they developed a place for third- through fifth-grade teachers to learn interesting ways to share math and science.
Of the 1,500 teachers who applied nationwide, only 200 were selected; five were from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
One of the selected educators, Rebecca Grgurina, is a fifth-grade teacher at Elon Park Elementary. She heard about the academy from a teacher who attended last summer's session.
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Another CMS selection, Wendy White, Polo Ridge Elementary's science facilitator, learned of the program from a mass email from Wayne Fisher, CMS Elementary Science Specialist.
"You had to fill out a big long application about how you excite your kids in class and get them interested in science," said White, 43.
"You also have to talk about how you integrate math and science together," added Grgurina, 31. "We had to give an example of a lesson we'd used recently that incorporated both."
After applying, teachers were chosen by a group of math and science experts.
In March, Grgurina received an email and White received a phone call at school: They were in.
White rotates through every class at Polo Ridge to bring special science experiments and activities to students.
"I think there are a lot of teachers that don't like science and are almost afraid of it," White said. "But science is my passion. It is my goal to get kids interested in it and it is so easy to tie into real life - it explains everything."
Next year, the position of science facilitator at Polo Ridge will not exist due to budget cuts. White hopes she somehow will be able to continue sharing her passion, as well as the new knowledge garnered from the academy.
Grgurina shares White's love for science, even though Grgurina teaches all fifth-grade subjects.
Both teachers say they try to think outside the box to engage students. When Grgurina's class was studying weathering, she took them outside to look for signs of erosion. When the March 11 earthquake hit Japan, White was able to show students how shifting tectonic plates can affect millions of lives.
The two teachers also share another quality: They both use textbooks as little as possible.
"The majority of our lessons are hands-on," Grgurina said. "Today it is hard to keep kids engaged for long. They get distracted easily, so this really helps."
During the academy, math and science experts from the National Science Teachers Association and Math Solutions will lead large and small group sessions. White and Grgurina say they look forward to sharing what they learn with fellow teachers next year. As they seek new and different ways to approach math and science, just the opportunity to talk with teachers from Alaska to Florida will prove invaluable, they said.