Head of her class

Head of her class Sally Stoll presents information about nutrition to students in her seventh grade science class. by David Lias Sally Stoll never thought she wanted to be a teacher.

But, while living in Flandreau, she began volunteering at that community's school when her children became students there.

"I liked the workplace, I liked the teachers and it was a comfortable place to be," Stoll said. "I thought, 'I could do this.'"

Today, teaching is Stoll's passion. Her excellent rapport with her seventh-grade science students at Vermillion Middle School hasn't gone unnoticed.

Stoll was honored last month by President Bush with the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation's highest commendation of its kind.

She traveled to Washington, DC late last month for an awards ceremony, meetings with education leaders, and participation in a series of professional development activities.

Stoll is South Dakota's only presidential award recipient in the field of science and is one of only 95 teachers nationwide to be recognized with a 2003 presidential award.

All awardees for 2003 are seventh to 12th grade teachers. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers are eligible for the 2004 presidential awards.

Pursuing a career as a science educator was appealing, Stoll said.

"Science was always a natural fit for me," she said. "I always have loved science. I was definitely a neighborhood explorer � I was always outdoors, looking to see what my community was like as far as a natural community."

A creek ran near her family's home when she was a junior high student.

"I knew every little critter that lived in it," Stoll said.

Her dad was in the Air Force, and that meant her family wasn't in one place for long.

"I'm mostly from the East Coast; we spent some time in Europe when I was in grade school."

She graduated from high school in Rome, NY, and attended college in California.

She decided to go back to school, namely Dakota State University in Madison, after experiencing the appeal of a career of education first-hand

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at Flandreau.

"Somewhere along the line, I decided if I can teach in middle school, I know that's where there is a need, because kids this age can be difficult," Stoll said.

Her first year of teaching, she said, "was very difficult. I think I took every kid's problem home, and tried to figure out how to fix every problem that the kids had. And this wasn't a science issue � this was life.

"You can't to do that," Stoll said, "and continue to work. It takes awhile to figure out you can focus on more than one student at once to fix those problems."

She believes the world can be made a better place through conservation and environmental science.

"I'm still trying to make the world better by taking care of it, and I know it takes more than one (person)," Stoll said. "I probably can make more of an impact if I can help students learn how to become good citizens of the earth and to preserve and protect it and become good stewards.

"That's my passion," she said. "That's why I'm in the classroom."

Established by Congress in 1983, and administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation, the annual presidential awards program identifies outstanding mathematics and science teachers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. Department of Defense Schools. This year's recipients � chosen by a panel of esteemed mathematicians, scientists and educators in conjunction with the White House � receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.

"These outstanding teachers show us what excellent teaching looks like," says Mark Saul, Presidential Awards project director for the National Science Foundation. "They have a passion for their subject and a dedication to their students. They know how to bring out the best in every student, in every kind of school. We hope their example will stimulate the creativity of other teachers and help to attract new recruits to the mathematics and science teaching profession."

Stoll's honor hasn't gone unnoticed by her fellow educators and her students. The hallways of Vermillion Middle School were adorned with posters hand-drawn by pupils to congratulate her.

Part of her success in the classroom � she's taught sixth grade science for eight years and seventh grade science for 6 years in Vermillion � is her understanding of the challenges facing students in their teen years.

"They aren't comfortable in their own skin, and so I think you have to know that about kids this age," Stoll said. "They're trying to figure out where they fit, and they don't fit. There's no one place for them.

"It certainly makes life exciting; it gives me a purpose every day," she said. "I don't have to decide what I'm going to do, because they're going to give me some ideas."

A secret to her success may be that, inside, she's still that young girl fascinated by the creek that wandered by her back yard.

"I think I'm about 12 inside," Stoll said. "I think I'm still an explorer, trying to figure out where I fit and where I am in the world and what the world is like.

"I hope that they (my students) have their eyes as open as I think mine are," she said.

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