Passion for teaching drives winner of presidential honor

Jennifer Basner wrote and taught a lesson on elapsed time as part of her award application.
Jennifer Basner wrote and taught a lesson on elapsed time as part of her award application. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 26, 2013

As a youngster, elementary school teacher Jenn Basner had her share of struggles with math.

But with a little discipline and help from great teachers, she mastered math, and today it is that passion that won her recognition by the White House.

President Obama named Basner, a third-grade teacher at Berlin Community School, as one of New Jersey's winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching this year.

She is among 102 math and science teachers from across the nation honored with the award this year. Jeanette Scillieri, a teacher in the Leonia school system in North Jersey won for science.

"She's just an excellent teacher," said Berlin Borough Superintendent Tony Trongone. "We are just proud of her."

Basner, in her 14th year as a teacher, was nominated by Trongone. He was impressed by how she effectively used technology such as a smartboard to engage her entire class.

"To do that every day takes a lot of passion and hard work for your craft," Trongone said. "She's the type of teacher I want my children to learn from."

Basner, 35, of Tabernacle, knew from an early age growing up near Pittsburgh that she wanted to become a teacher. She obtained a bachelor's degree from Grove City College and a master's from Gannon University.

"I love what I do. I love my job." Basner said.

Basner has taught third grade in Berlin for eight years. She was a substitute teacher for a year there and previously taught at a Christian school in western Pennsylvania.

After she was nominated for the president's award in 2012, Basner had to complete a grueling application process. She wrote, created, and taught a math lesson on elapsed time, an important but difficult concept for third graders to grasp. Her inclusion classroom last year had several special education students.

The lesson was videotaped and submitted to judges. She also was required to write an essay critiquing the lesson.

Using a hands-on approach as she typically does, Basner employed mini clocks and a fictional trip to the zoo to teach students how to compute elapsed time.

Students applied what they learned to determine if they arrived at the zoo at 9:30 a.m. and the field show was at 11 a.m., how much time did they have in between.

To make sure they caught on, Basner had students work with each other and independently under her watchful eye. She followed up with reinforcement and enrichment in small group sessions.

While she was always a good student, Basner said, she had to work a little harder at math. So when she sees that "aha moment" on her students' faces, she feels a sense of accomplishment.

"I love that I am able to teach each student in my classroom something that he will use for the rest of his life," she said.

Basner was named a finalist for the Presidential Award by New Jersey in June 2012 and recognized by the state Board of Education.

The icing on the cake came when President Obama announced the winners Friday, the last day of classes for Basner before the holiday recess. Winners were chosen by a panel of scientists, mathematicians, and educators.

"I was very honored that they would consider my teaching worthy," said Basner, the mother of two boys. "I do it because I have a passion for teaching."

The awards alternate yearly between teachers of kindergarten through sixth grade, and seventh grade through high school. The 2012 awardees teach kindergarten through 6th grade.

Each of the winners will receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. In the spring, they will travel to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony. Basner plans to share what she learns with her Berlin colleagues.

"These teachers are inspiring today's young students to become the next generation of American scientists, mathematicians, and innovators," President Obama said.

"Through their passion and dedication, and by sharing their excitement about science, technology, engineering, and math, they are helping us build a promising future for all our children."


Nominations for the 2014 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are open through April 1, 2014. Visit www.paemst.org for more information


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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