Alumna in Running for National Teaching Excellence Award

Alumna Colleen Pandolph ’99 G’00 is one of only five New Yorkers to be nominated for a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science teaching from President Barack Obama.

If she wins it, this will be the second year in a row that a SUNY Plattsburgh teacher education graduate has received this national honor. (Alumnus Jim Brown G’92, a middle school teacher from Colonie, N.Y., received the award at a White House ceremony just last January. You can read the story here.)

Photo of Colleen PandolphCreating an Environment Conducive to Learning

Pandolph teaches sixth grade science and reading at Beekmantown Middle School, where she starts by maintaining consistency in the classroom.

A regular schedule is especially important to her sixth graders, Pandolph said, because they have recently moved from an elementary school classroom with just one teacher to a system where they may have a different teacher every period.

“If one student gets one answer right on the test because of a song, I’m playing it. It’s worth it.” - Colleen Pandolph

So Pandolph starts with routine and then adds interesting, hands-on experiences. She helps her students understand continental drift using homemade continent-shaped wooden blocks; moon phases using Oreo cookies; plains, plateaus and mountains using Play-Doh; and other scientific concepts using rap-music videos.

Into this mix, she adds tools that help students study and master the concepts  — aids like guided notes. These worksheets cover the information presented, leaving gaps that force the children to go back in and piece together what they learned.

A Winning Combination

Pandolph is humble about being nominated for the award and says that her team deserves much credit. Fellow teacher Sara Gadway ’92 G’94, for example, has been her mentor throughout her teaching experience. The two work closely together and even teach the same lessons.

Gadway is proud of Pandolph’s achievement.

"She possesses all of the key features of a master teacher — organization, resourcefulness, patience, motivation, kindness and above all, respect," Gadway said.

Principal James Knight G'01 agreed, adding that Pandolph is "a hard worker who is continuously searching for ways to improve and evolve."

As far as Pandolph’s preparation to become a teacher goes, she credits SUNY Plattsburgh with getting her off to a good start.

“It was a great foundation for what I do,” she said. “I’m glad I went there.”

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