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Ford City teacher earns Carnegie Science Award

| Thursday, March 13, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Divine Redeemer fifth-grade teacher Danielle Kephart holds JoJo, an eastern box turtle, while students watch on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

A teacher recognized for her innovative and creative teaching methods has been chosen to receive the 2014 Carnegie Science Award for elementary education in May and is set to receive another honor closer to home this week from the Armstrong Conservation District.

Danielle Kephart, a fifth-grade and science teacher at Divine Redeemer School in Ford City, said she was honored to be recognized for both awards and spoke eagerly about some of her classroom activities, including her Trout in the Classroom project, which allows students to raise fingerling fish for release into streams.

“Our trout are doing the best they've done in years,” she said.

And she is anxious to get started on a program offered and funded by the state Game Commission called “Explore Bow Hunting.”

“Our school received a $3,500 grant from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and was chosen as a pilot school to teach the science behind bow hunting,” she said.

She will use a crossbow and compound bow to demonstrate how they are used, but will mainly be teaching students about animal behavior, tracking and the use of camouflage while hunting. But she would like to take the project further at some point.

“I'm hoping to get a kid's club started with the help from local hunting clubs,” Kephart said.

Her classroom is alive with creatures — turtles, salamanders, newts, hermit crabs and fish — which provide a way for students to learn about species, their environments and habits.

“We're so proud of her,” said Nicalena Carlesi, principal at Divine Redeemer.

Because of Kephart's teaching methods, her students can explain topics in science more typically taught in high school, Carlesi said.

Projects include growing plants hydroponically, hatching chicken, duck and guinea fowl eggs and growing mushrooms in a closet.

“All her students can tell you what the pH, temperature and nitrogen level should be for their brook trout to survive, thanks to the Trout in the Classroom project she has participated in for the last five years,” Carlesi said. “The amount of knowledge they're gaining is phenomenal.”

This will be Kephart's first Carnegie Science Award. She received an honorable mention last year from the Carnegie Science Center in the elementary educator category.

The Carnegie Science Awards recognize leaders in science, technology and education and honors awardees in more than 20 categories each year.

An independent committee made up of previous winners and educators from the Pittsburgh region chooses winners, said Aaron Martin, who is development manager with the Carnegie Science Center.

“Ms. Kephart's hands-on approach to science — from raising turtles to manufacturing ‘leprechaun traps' in the classroom — transforms elementary science education into engaging, inquiry-based learning activities that sets a foundation for lifelong learning,” Martin said. Her approach was noted by the committee in determining she should get the award.

The leprechaun traps are a way to teach sixth-grade students how to design and make simple and compound machines, Kephart said.

“But we haven't caught any leprechauns yet,” she said.

Kephart's work has been recognized by the Armstrong Conservation District. She will receive its 2013 Outstanding Educator Award in the Manor Township fire hall on Friday.

Dennis Hawley, who is part of the conservation district's education committee that chooses the award candidates each year, said Kephart stood out because of her commitment to teaching students about conservation issues.

“She teaches students how to be good stewards of the earth,” he said.

Kephart will accept her Carnegie award on May 9 in the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

“I'm very excited and very pleased,” she said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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