James teacher a finalist for state award

By Tony Parra

A James Elementary teacher has been selected as one of two finalists for the 2005 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching.
Mary Murray, a third-grade teacher at R.M. James Elementary, was announced as one of the finalists. The New Mexico Public Education Department officials reviewed math and science teachers for the 2005 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The program identifies exemplary mathematics and science teachers from kindergarten to sixth grade this year and the program will focus on math and science teachers who teach junior high and high school students next year, according to Murray. She said the program alternates in awarding teachers from elementaries one year and teachers from junior high and high school the next year.
“It’s a great honor,” Murray said. “I’ve never been in anything like this. I love math and science.”
According to a press release from the NMPED, there are two finalists for the science teacher of the year in New Mexico. The other finalist is Pita Martinez-McDonald, who teaches at Cuba Elementary School.
“She’s an experienced, veteran teacher,” Michael Terry, James Elementary principal, said. “She is always willing to work extra to help her students. She’s always going to seminars to improve her teaching methods.”
Terry said it is an honor for Murray to have made it so far in the award contest. Murray said she’s been teaching third grade for the last 15 years. She said she taught language arts in the early 1970s at Floyd and taught different elementary grades in Santa Fe for five years after her stint at Floyd.
One math and one science teacher will be selected as the winner of the Presidential Award and will be able to travel to Washington D.C. from April 11-16 for presentation of the awards. Murray said she has been given a time-frame as to when the winner will be announced.
A national selection committee reviews applications of the state-level finalists and representatives from the office of President George W. Bush will make national awards. The award winners receive a special citation signed by Bush, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and a paid trip for two to Washington D.C. to attend special recognition events.
Murray worked in the grant-writing process last year for a $2,990.64 grant along with two other James Elementary teachers, Joeli Cathey and Josie Thomas. James Elementary received the grant through the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) foundation.
Murray said the theme of the grant application was, “The Circle of Life.” Murray said the funding went to videos, books and live specimens to learn more about animal’s life spans. She said James Elementary students have raised frogs and brine shrimp and will raise butterflies in April and May.
“It’s (life-cycle program) been great,” Murray said. “For example. We read a story today called, ‘Cactus Hotel,’ and it was about the growth of a cactus from a seed until it dies. Some of the kids said, ‘It’s a life-cycle.’ They’re making the connection and understanding that all living organisms have life cycles.”