By Maureen Smith
MADISON – Vickie Moorehead, a science teacher at St. Anthony School was honored with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Thursday, Sept. 8, in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country.
The winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process at the state level. Each nomination year of the award alternates between teachers in the kindergarten through sixth grade level, and those teaching seventh through 12th grades.
Winners of this presidential honor receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion, and are invited to Washington, DC, for an awards ceremony, as well educational and celebratory events.
Moorehead, a Canton native, has been teaching for 28 years in Catholic schools for the Diocese of Jackson. Both at Jackson St. Richard and St. Anthony, she embraced the Whole Schools Curiculum, using the arts as a key part of instruction. According to the biography posted on the presidential award site, “her classroom is an active learning center where her students’ enthusiasm for science is evident. By teaching using the arts, Vicki feels she is able to reach all learners.”
Stephanie Brown, assistant principal at St. Anthony agrees. “Vicki Moorehead is a shining example of a teacher who truly understands and utilizes arts integration in the classroom. It is not unusual to walk into her science class to see students performing drama productions or utilizing various forms of media to create a visual art piece that demonstrates their understanding of a scientific concept. Vicki’s classroom is a place that fosters creativity while helping students to master curriculum objectives,” said Brown. “She encourages collaboration while simultaneously helping students develop independence and self-confidence. Moorehead helps her students find a place to shine, whether that is visual art, music, engineering, or traditional academics,” she added.
Moorehead told a Madison newspaper she believes her love for her subjects help make her a better teacher. “I absolutely love science, and I think my excitement is contagious to the students which helps to keep them interested and motivated. It’s my job to find out what my students love, what they are passionate about or interested in, and then help find the science within that area,” she explained. “If a child loves dance or baseball, then I focus on the physics behind it. If their passion is weather, we track hurricanes. There are so many abstract concepts in science, and I try to make it as concrete as possible by making sure it has a real-world application and doing lots of hands-on and inquiry-based learning,” Moorehead added.
“Vicki Morehead has devoted her life to teaching in Catholic schools. She is totally devoted to her students and their achieving success, not only while they are in our school, but in their futures as well,” said Jim Bell, principal at St. Anthony. “She is an outstanding science teacher and her classes are an ‘essential’ in any student’s experience while at St. Anthony School. We are very proud of Vicki and congratulate her on this tremendous honor,” he added.
She told Mississippi Catholic her faith plays a role in her teaching as well. “Teaching science is the perfect subject to integrate my faith. Every aspect of science can be a teachable moment as to how everything doesn’t just happen randomly but according to God’s design and plan,” said Moorehead. “I can also help them connect their own faith lives to science. As a teacher my job isn’t just to teach science but to teach the whole child, and teaching in a Catholic school allows me to do that every day,” she said.
The students, she says, are not the only ones who benefit from Catholic education. “I think I’m most thankful that I can share my faith daily and also be on the receiving end of learning about my faith through the examples of those around me. The students and staff have played a tremendous role shaping my own faith life. I’m thankful that my faith can be at the core of what I am teaching as well as my interactions with my students and the staff. It’s evident that God has me right where He wants me right now,” she said. During her trip to Washington, Moorhead said she was hoping to go to Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with her husband.
Moorehead said she does integrate technology in her teaching, she still lets the kids take the lead in many ways. “What I do in my class is give my students a place where they have the time to slow down, think, and process. Children need time for their brains to slow down and receive information in order to problem solve on their own. As a science teacher, I take full advantage of the natural inquisitiveness and wonder a child has to guide my instruction,” she said.
“The recipients of this award are integral to ensuring our students are equipped with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to our nation’s success,” President Barack Obama said in a statement released before the award ceremony. “As the United States continues to lead the way in the innovation that is shaping our future, these excellent teachers are preparing students from all corners of the country with the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills that help keep us on the cutting-edge,” the president added.
Moorehead received the National Catholic Educational Association’s Distinguished Teacher Award in 2013. She is one of two Catholic school teachers in the nation to receive the Presidential award this year, but not the first in the Diocese of Jackson. Cathy Tebo, currently teaching at St. Richard, was an honoree in the past.