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Franklin Ave. teacher wins national STEM award

Franklin Avenue second grade teacher Lindsey Ayers and winning STEM designers Ashnu, Bernadette, and Lyla in 2019. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

WESTFIELD — Franklin Avenue Elementary School Principal Chris Tolpa recently announced that second grade teacher Lindsey Ayers has received a Project Lead the Way Outstanding Teacher Award for 2021-22 in the Elementary Launch category.

Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit organization that provides science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) materials for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students and teachers across the United States.

“She’s one of only 74 recipients across the country,” Tolpa said of Ayers, who has been with the district for seven years.

In her nomination, Tolpa wrote that Ayers inspires students to engage in learning beyond the classroom by providing exploration opportunities.

“Any student in Franklin Avenue’s second grade classrooms can be assured she will discover the true power of nature and how to preserve a popsicle without a freezer, all through PLTW’s engaging modules and guided by the caring hands of Mrs. Lindsey Ayers,” Tolpa wrote. “Whether children are creating a town to be destroyed by a flood in a Rubbermaid bin or carefully constructing a container to retain their pop, students apply the engineering design process as critical thinkers and risk-takers.”

Tolpa said Ayers helps the 7- and 8-year-olds understand that learning comes from making a plan, test-driving it, and reworking it toward a solution. Her students are ready to try new things, as demonstrated by their enthusiasm for taking part in Mass STEM Hub’s annual STEM Week Challenge, for which her students received first place and third place awards over the past two years in a challenge about food waste.

“Through these efforts they were able to converse with engineers, chefs, scientists, marine biologists and other STEM professionals to discover more about the opportunities in STEM,” Tolpa wrote.

She said Ayers also invites the community into her classroom, such as Westfield Gas & Electric technicians, and representatives from the Amelia Park Skating Arena, to show how her lessons are relevant to the real world.

“As a teacher, there is no better feeling than knowing that you are providing your students with experiences that they will remember, the ones that inspire them to consider their future career at a young age and allow them to see themselves in STEM and know that this path is for them if they choose it” Ayers said. “I am grateful to have access to this type of curriculum and the support to implement it successfully.”

Over the summer, Ayers trained all of the Franklin Avenue teachers in Project Lead the Way, and she will be an integral point person as the district expands the program to other elementary schools. She is a member of the district’s Science Curriculum Team, and will help guide where the district is heading in STEM.

Ayers has been recognized before for her teaching ability, receiving a Grinspoon Teacher of the Year Award, and a Special Education Parent Advisory Council Shining Star Award for 2021, nominated last spring by Sarah Timmerman and her daughter.

“To say that she is an amazing and deserving teacher is an understatement,” wrote Sarah Timmerman on her nomination. “She goes above and beyond every day for all of her students and absolutely those with extra needs. She takes great pains to modify things as needed, take a step back when necessary, break things down, and come up with new and creative ideas to see that all she is teaching is accessible and understood by all learners.”

“Every administrator wishes she had a Mrs. Lindsey Ayers,” Tolpa said.

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