Brewster High School teacher Dr. Brittany Kozlenko was selected as one of New York State’s three finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). PAEMST is the highest honor a STEM educator can receive in the United States.
Over the next month, the National Science Foundation will review applications and choose one of the three finalists to be New York’s national winner. The winner will be announced by the Science and Technology Committee at the White House and will receive a $10,000 award.
Dr. Kozlenko, a physics teacher, was nominated anonymously and had to complete a 13-page application on the five dimensions applicants are assessed on: mastery of content, instructional methods, assessments for student learning, reflective practices, and leadership inside and outside of the classroom. In addition, she had to provide a video of one of her classes, photos, three recommendations and more.
An honors student her whole life, Dr. Kozlenko always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“I really enjoyed math and science,” she said. “When I started thinking about which one I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life, I leaned towards science because I like how you can explain the world through it.”
She credits her physics teacher, Dr. Arthur Eisenkraft (himself a PAEMST winner and former National Science Teachers Association president), with leading her to physics over the other sciences.
“He was just incredible,” she said. “He came in every day super excited. You couldn’t help being excited about what you were learning.”
That excitement certainly rubbed off on Dr. Kozlenko, whose enthusiasm for her work is impossible to miss when she starts speaking about it.
“My favorite part about teaching is that first, it’s super fun,” she laughed. “I love watching students start out by throwing words around that have true physics meaning but which they are not using correctly. As soon as we go into why a certain phenomenon happens and explain it, all of a sudden it clicks and they say ‘this is so cool!’ That, to me, is the most exciting — seeing how enthusiastic they get at being able to understand the world.”
Understanding the world around them is Dr. Kozlenko’s hope for all of her students.
“I hope they understand that physics is everywhere and that they start to see the world in a different light; that they start to think about the impact of what’s happening and why it’s happening,” she said.
But she doesn’t want it to stop there.
“I want them to shift their thinking and, rather than being passive learners and taking the world as it is, to get in control and start thinking through it when they come to a problem. A lot of the class is showing them something that is happening and asking them to figure out why. It’s transitioning them from being sponges to being more active learners in their own lives.”
It is not just students who are affected by her passion for her work. Peter LaMoreaux, a physics teacher at the high school and one of the people who wrote a letter of recommendation for Dr. Kozlenko, noted that her influence is felt throughout the school community.
“Dr. Kozlenko inspires learning through her innovative pedagogy and infectious enthusiasm,” LaMoreaux said. “She is a wonderful teacher and colleague and serves as an instructional leader for her students and all of Brewster High School.”