A Newport teacher was named a state finalist Friday for a national teaching award in mathematics and science.

Robin Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Sebasticook Valley Middle School, was named one of the four Maine finalists for the Presidential Award Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

“I was ecstatic,” Kennedy said Friday. “Seeing who else was applying and knowing what great teachers they are, I was quite honored.”

Kennedy, 56, demonstrates an ability to connect science to the everyday lives of her students, according to a news release from the Maine Department of Education.

“Robin is one of those high-energy teachers and students look forward to the excitement in her classes,” said Jason Tardy, the school’s principal. “I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t appreciate what she brings to their children.”

Kennedy taught for 15 years, starting at Sebasticook Valley Middle School before taking a five-year sabbatical to work for NASA as the education director for the Challenger Learning Center of Maine in Bangor. She came back to the classroom because she missed working with children and serves as a NASA solar system educator for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The kids inspire me with their enthusiasm,” she said.

Kennedy said her love of science and specifically outer space comes from growing up during the Space Race of the 1960s.

“It would have been a dream of mine to go up into space,” Kennedy said. “I just connect well with the subject. Personally, I think I was born a scientist.”

In her classroom, Kennedy prefers interaction and hands-on learning to other traditional methods.

For example, Kennedy plans to take her students to see Maine astronaut Chris Cassidy when he visits Husson University’s Gracie Theatre on Nov. 7, Tardy said. She has also talked about taking students to see the movie “Gravity,” and then talk about the correct and incorrect portrayal of science in the film.

“In my classroom, I really want kids to be thinking,” she said. “We are asking students in this information age to use this information and make something more valuable out of it. I want my kids to teach me as much as I teach them.”

Kennedy cited her willingness to change and adapt as a teacher as one of the primary reasons she was nominated for the award.

“Every year I have something different in my classroom, something more modern,” Kennedy said, adding that her outreach to other teachers throughout the state helps to separate her from the crowd.

“I’ve been very lucky to have many opportunities to hear from other teachers and learn about opportunities for teachers,” she said. “I don’t keep what I know under my hat — I share it.”

Kennedy, who also serves on the board of the Maine Science Teachers Association, said last year she found out about the award through the association and applied.

The other finalists are Lisa McLellan from Windham High School, William O’Brien from Camden Hills Regional High School and Amy Troiano from Westbrook High School.

The National Science Foundation will select two winners from each state to be recognized next spring in Washington D.C., where they will receive a $10,000 award and participate in professional development with peers from across the country.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
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