Sultan science teacher’s work earns national recognition

SULTAN — A science teacher here is receiving national recognition for her work in the classroom.

Karissa Kelley started teaching biology and chemistry at Sultan High School two years ago. Now, she’s being honored with the 2015 award for new teachers by the National Science Teacher Association.

“It’s fantastic,” Superintendent Dan Chaplik said. “It speaks to the great work she and all of our staff do every day.”

As this year’s honoree, Kelley is set to attend the association’s annual conference in Chicago next month. She will take courses to sharpen her skill in the classroom and gather ideas to bring back to Sultan.

“Beg, borrow and steal is kind of our motto in teaching,” she said.

Kelley aims to keep her students motivated in the classroom by teaching them scientific lessons through working in the lab. “When they get their hands on and get involved, those abstract concepts start to make a lot more sense,” she said.

Kelley often takes students to nearby Osprey Park, where they measure pH levels, oxygen, temperature and the depth of the Skykomish River. They also get to work in the salmon hatchery on campus in Kelley’s biology class.

“I don’t think I’d want to take it from any other teacher,” said Haleigh Dilday, a junior in biology. “Having a teacher who cares is really important to me.”

She said appreciates that Kelley takes time to work with students individually.

Dilday, 17, said biology was one of the toughest subjects for her. But Kelley’s lab activities have made learning the concepts much easier.

“I like having the visual and the hands-on experience instead of just looking at a paper,” Dilday said.

Monica Chavez is a senior in Kelley’s chemistry class. She said students painted panels on a wall in Kelley’s classroom to represent the periodic table. They researched the elements, brought in examples of them and made presentations to the class. Chavez was assigned helium so she used a balloon for her demonstration.

Chavez, 17, credits Kelley, who has two young children at home, for staying two hours after school every week to help her pass the tests needed to graduate.

“I used to be that person who didn’t like science,” Chavez said. “But now I’d like to take it further.”

Chavez said she hopes to become an attorney. She plans to study forensic science to aid her work in the legal field. She’s taking Kelley’s forensics chemistry class in which students work to solve a murder mystery.

“It’s like real life,” Principal Tami Nesting said. “We have this clue and that clue so how do we use science to solve it?”

It is lessons like these that help Kelley share her passion for science with her students, Nesting said.

At the upcoming conference, Kelley hopes to gather ideas for using gardens to teach genetics. Until this year, the greenhouse at Sultan High had not been used for classes in a long time. Kelley plans to expand the course offerings in the greenhouse with what she learns in Chicago.

Kelley grew up in Palouse in Eastern Washington. She earned her master’s degree at nearby Washington State University in Pullman. She decided to become a teacher after volunteering at a Boys &Girls Club and tutoring students.

“I really enjoyed teaching and helping students,” she said. “I’m obsessed with science so I decided to combine both passions.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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