Kathleen Erickson teaches math at Monument Mountain Regional High School.
Kathleen Erickson teaches math at Monument Mountain Regional High School. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Thursday July 5, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- For the past 22 years, Kathy Erickson has been working to help students make sense out of math. This year, her work has paid off: Erickson has earned a Pres idential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Tea ching through the National Sci ence Foundation.

Erickson, a math teacher for Monument Mountain Regional High School, returned to her Richmond home on Saturday after participating in a three-day conference with educators, scientists and mathematicians and policy makers in Washington, D.C. A total of 97 math and science educators from across the country earned these presidential awards.

She was chosen, along with Springfield Central High School science teacher Naomi Volain, as the winners representing the state; both women were honored by Governor Deval Patrick and other state officials at a June 18 Statehouse ceremony.

In addition to attending the presidential award program with her father, husband and daughter, Erickson earned certificates and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. Erickson, who has taught at Monument for the past 15 years, was nominated for the award by the school's current principal, Marianne Young.

"It was all wonderfully overwhelming," Erickson told The Eagle of her experience.

She lauded the program for recognizing instruction in science and math.

"The Presidential Award provides me an opportunity to reflect on my work so far, to celebrate successes and recognize areas needing attention. I am able to acknowledge the students, colleagues, and community members who have made me a better teacher," she said.

A Stockbridge native, Erickson is a member of Monument Moun tain's Class of 1985. She went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in engineering from Cornell Uni versity and a master of education degree from the Uni versity of Massachusetts at Am herst, from which she became certified to teach high school math.

Beyond teaching math at Monument, she also helps to coordinate academic and enrichment programs for freshmen. Prior to teaching at her alma mater, she taught at Concord Carlisle High School and Newton North High School.

Erickson said that, "awards recognizing teachers are im portant because they further local and national discussions about teaching and learning, ultimately helping the students, which is the most important goal."

While in Washington, D.C., listening to her national peers and policy makers, Erickson said she heard a greater call to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and heard of the president's push to prepare 100,000 effective science and mathematics teachers over the next decade -- part of Barack Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, which has garnered more than $700 million in donations and in-kind support to help bolster science and technology education in the classroom.

"America's success in the 21st century depends on our ability to educate our children, give our workers the skills they need, and embrace technological change," Obama said in a White House press statement. "That starts with the men and women in front of our classrooms."

Though Erickson and her math colleagues will focus on preparing for new mandated curriculum frameworks and standards this fall, as well as preparing students for college and STEM careers, she said that building confidence and recognizing progress is key to helping students succeed in math, and any other subject.

"It's about helping them understand the process of what they're doing over the end results," she said.