The New York State Master Teachers program on Monday announced the names of 42 Long Island educators who will join the ranks, sharing their best ideas with their peers.
A total of 215 people statewide have been tapped for the program this year; 104 were chosen in October when the initiative was launched.
The program focuses on teachers of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects. Federal and state officials have been focusing their attention on improving science education for years, hoping to better prepare students for professions in the growing and sometimes high-paying field.
Participating teachers will receive $60,000 in compensation for their efforts in the four-year-long program. They will be required to mentor less-experienced teachers and lead or take part in other professional development at nearby SUNY campuses -- at Stony Brook University for the Island's master teachers.
While many districts had a single teacher named, Commack had five, including Stephanie O'Brien, a chemistry teacher at the high school level.
O'Brien said she's thrilled for the chance to become a better educator. Professional development in chemistry can be hard to find on Long Island, she said, so she's grateful for the opportunity.
Her motivation: that "aha moment" when a student finally grasps an idea they've struggled with, "and they feel empowered."
In addition to guided discussion -- in which students talk with her and each other to ask and answer questions -- she also relies on the whiz-bang nature of in-class experiments, including one in which students mix soap, food coloring, potassium iodide and hydrogen peroxide to watch the liquid ooze from a beaker in a thick foam.
"They love that," she said.
O'Brien, a teacher for seven years, said a handful of her students have gone on to major in the sciences in college, a point of pride for her.
Gillian Winters, a high school physics teacher in the Smithtown school district, was elated about her selection. She is one of four people chosen from the district.
Winters said she wants to spark -- or in some cases, reignite -- student interest in science both inside and outside of the classroom.
"By the time they get to high school, some of the students have been turned off pursuing the scientific or technical fields, but for so many of them it's the right choice," she said.
She helps lead a particle physics master class that allows students to analyze data collected by CERN, the world-famous laboratory near Geneva, and to talk with its scientists about their findings.
Cody Onufrock, a high school science teacher in the Long Beach district who was chosen, wants his students to apply what they've learned in his classes to solve real-world problems.
He's helped one student study the viability of using clam shells in roofing materials, encouraged another to learn more about the antibiotic properties of natural compounds found in beeswax and motivated a third to find ways to reduce the number of plastic water bottles discarded each day by her peers.
In that case, the student petitioned the high school to install water filters -- and officials complied.
"She did the research and did the action," Onufrock said.
State officials said the newly named master teachers have a combined total of 2,700 years of teaching experience spanning several areas, including calculus, algebra, physics, earth science, chemistry, engineering design and development and genetics.
Candidates submitted personal statements, reports on their classroom performance and three letters of recommendation, including one from a current or prior student. Their applications were reviewed by SUNY admissions officers, former teachers and principals, school district leaders, and others.