Mercy teacher named one of the nation’s best science teachers

09/14/2016 9:00 AM |

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Months before she started her first year at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School on Friday, living environment teacher Sarah Spector had already been recognized as one of the nation’s best new science teachers.

In fact, Ms. Spector, 29, received the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellowship this past spring with less than a year of teaching experience under her belt.

The fellowship is a five-year program for new high school math and science teachers designed to provide them with guidance as they start their careers. This year, 34 teachers from across the country earned the distinction, which provides educators with professional development, funds for classroom materials, summer stipends and tuition reimbursement.

Ms. Spector, who lives in Setauket, attended the first of three annual fellowship meetings in July.

“I’m looking forward to being able to apply things I learned directly to my own classroom,” she said.

As part of the fellowship, Ms. Spector and the other fellows will meet in person and online over the next five years to share ideas, experiences and research in an effort to help each other as they build their careers. Once the fellowship ends, Ms. Spector will have the opportunity to continue to work with KSTF and guide new fellows through the process — something she said she’s looking forward to.

Created in 1999, KSTF is a non-profit whose goal is to increase the number of high school math and science teachers in the country, eventually strengthening Science Technology Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) education in the U.S., its website states.

A professor recommended that Ms. Spector, who attended graduate school at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, apply for the fellowship. After about a year-long process, which included submitting an application and phone and in-person interviews, she received the fellowship this spring.

“I was excited and relieved,” she said. “I was hopeful that I would get it and I thought it would be one of the most helpful things I would be able to do as a new teacher.”

About three months after hearing the good news, Ms. Spector was hired at Mercy.

“I like the fact that she’s new to the profession because she’s energetic and she just has a love for learning and teaching, and I know she’s going to really gel with the kids,” assistant principal Lisa Navarra said. “The fellowship is just an added bonus.”

Before moving to New York, Ms. Spector completed her student teaching at a public school in Utah and later filled in as a leave replacement there for the remainder of the 2015-16 school year. Before graduate school, she was also an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service at Crater Lake National Park in her home state of Oregon, where she created content for tours, talks, guided hikes and the junior ranger program.

At Mercy, Ms. Spector teaches both honors and regular earth science. She’s also taking over the school’s Wetlands Project, which she hopes to turn into a club.

“I’m really excited to be working here with a new group of teachers,” Ms. Spector said, “and also to be able to improve my teaching practice over the next five years with the members of my cohort.”

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Photo: Sarah Spector, a new living environment teacher at McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, is one of 34 people nationwide named a Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellow. The program is designed to help new math and science teachers at the high school level with supplies and professional development. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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