Amy Zientek, a UWM alum who teaches science at Greendale High School, was honored with the 2019 Celebrate Teachers and Teaching Award Oct. 17. This year’s award focused on “Fostering 21st Century Learning.” Teachers were judged on their ability to be forward thinking, embrace change and facilitate innovative learning that integrates the use of technology.
This is the seventh year for the awards, which are sponsored by the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee (EDGM).
Zientek earned her bachelor’s degree from UWM in biology and chemistry in 2003; her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in 2007; and her doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 2014.
“Amy has developed into a world class teacher as she has a never ending thirst for exploring better ways to teach,” said Craig Berg, professor of science teacher education. He has known Zientek since she first enrolled in the UWM MACSTEP science education program. “She has a zest to engage in continued growth by locating and enrolling in many professional development projects, then incorporating innovative teaching strategies in her classroom,” he added. “ She is a teacher, scholar and intrepid explorer in the field of education – a top one-percenter in my mind, a quiet humble force who is so deserving of this recognition.”
Zientek has developed ongoing partnerships with local colleges and universities, including UWM, to bring new experiences and scientists into her classrooms. Among them is the WInSTEP program and a for-credit teacher education class.
“The WInSTEP program has just been phenomenal in helping the students get real-life experience,” she said. Southeastern Wisconsin institutions have been so great in working with her students, she said. “We’ve had some really great outreach. I have worked with some really great teams both at the university and high school level.”
WInSTEP (Wisconsin Inquiry-Based Scientist Teacher Education Partnership Award program) creates partnerships among researchers, teachers, schools, museums, science centers and others. The focus is getting more students involved in doing classroom research with an environmental health focus. This year, for example, Zientek’s AP bio classes have joined up with UWM and Concordia to study zebrafish embryos looking at the impact of drugs on the developing embryos.
She has also teamed up with UWM’s School of Education to help students interested in teaching to earn college credit. Similar programs are available for core content area, she said. “Why couldn’t students earn credit for a career path if they’re passionate about it?” Working with Angel Hessel, distinguished lecturer in the School of Education, she designed a course that helped students who wanted to be teachers earn credit. Last year, 10 students took part and two are now in UWM’s School of Education.
Zientek is a believer in lifelong learning. Although she’s busy with three daughters of her own, she tries to take advantage of professional development opportunities offered through local universities.
“What I took away from them — outside of content knowledge to share with my students — was kids really have to be doing things. You can’t talk to them; you have to let them experience. Like with the WInSTEP program, let them actually see what happens to these embryos and draw their own conclusions.” With her aspiring teachers, she makes sure they get a chance to design lesson plans and go into classrooms and teach. “I can talk about environmental health awareness and talk about what it’s like to be a teacher, but until you’re in it, you really don’t appreciate the passion that can grow from it.”
Mary Kellner Honored
Mary Kellner, who earned her master’s degree in educational psychology and is a long-time supporter of the School of Education, received the Celebrate Teaching and Teachers 2019 Champion of Education Award. This award recognizes the lifetime achievements of an individual who, through their significant contributions to the field of education, have helped close the achievement gap and warrant the respect of educational thought leaders in the community. Kellner is the president of the Kelben Foundation, a family foundation that supports local educational and child-oriented initiatives. The Foundation has funded an endowed chair in educational psychology and an endowed professorship in early childhood education as well as scholarships for education students.
Sponsors of the 2019 Celebrate Teachers & Teaching event included The Faye McBeath Foundation, The Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation and The Northwestern Mutual Foundation.