Two teachers are finalists for presidential award

November 12, 2013

By Neil Pierson

Danielle Maletta has many students who have left her classroom and put their knowledge in mathematics to use in college engineering programs, but those upper-echelon students aren’t typically who fuel her desire for teaching.

“What I’m really passionate about are the kids who are struggling learners in mathematics,” said Maletta, who is in her sixth year at Eastside Catholic School.

By Neil Pierson Skyline High School’s Gretel von Bargen has been recognized as one of Washington’s top science teachers by a group of content experts and colleagues.

By Neil Pierson
Skyline High School’s Gretel von Bargen has been recognized as one of Washington’s top science teachers by a group of content experts and colleagues.

“Really, my goal for them is SAT success, college math placement success, and being able to take college-level math, not necessarily that they become a math major or a physics major. My goal is to get them to the next level, and if along the way I can get them to see connections, and get them to see that math is exciting and illuminating, then I’ve won.”

In October, a statewide panel of content experts and award-winning teachers recognized Maletta’s work. She was selected as a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest award in the U.S. for middle-school and high-school educators in those subject areas.

Maletta, who is one of four finalists in math instruction, isn’t the only Sammamish-based teacher to be honored. Skyline High School’s Gretel von Bargen, a biology instructor, was chosen as one of four finalists in science instruction.

Von Bargen, who’s in her 11th year at Skyline, said she has a long list of students who’ve blossomed after graduation. Among her former pupils are several physicians, five nurses, four laboratory researchers and three high-school biology teachers.

However, von Bargen is quick to credit her fellow teachers and the school’s International Baccalaureate program for her own success. More than 65 percent of Skyline’s juniors and seniors are enrolled in IB, which is designed to foster a globally-based education and acclimate students to college standards.

“Our team here has done a really excellent job of making sure students learn and are successful on the state standards,” von Bargen said, “so by the time they come to me, they have a really solid background from which I can expand and go in much more depth.”

Each of the 50 states chooses a PAEMST winner for math and science in the spring, so Maletta and von Bargen will have to wait until then to see if they’re selected as Washington’s top educators.

The path to being a finalist is arduous. Teachers must be nominated by someone else, then have to complete a detailed application. Von Bargen estimated the process took her 40-60 hours, from videotaping her classroom work, to writing reflective essays on her teaching, and garnering recommendations from colleagues, students and parents.

“I found it a valuable use of my time,” she said.

Maletta agreed the application process was time-consuming, but for her, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the work she did last year to obtain her National Board Certification. The national standards are designed to create teachers with proven skills to improve student achievement.

“To be totally honest, it really wasn’t anything different than what I do anyways,” Maletta said about the PAEMST application. “It just felt like a mini national boards.”

For both teachers, the process has made them more aware of why they love their profession. Helping students connect to the material is challenging work, so they both aim to create fun classroom environments.

“I feel I’m a commercial for biology, and if I don’t sell it, then the scientist field is going to lose some really great minds,” von Bargen said. “If I’m boring, they’ll think science is boring.”

“A huge piece of it, for me, is incorporating humor, and they know that I want to have fun with it and that I care,” Maletta said. “And I think that wins over all the different instructional strategies that I use.”


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