‘A world of possibilities’: East Side teacher awarded highest U.S. teaching honor

By 
Jason Bacaj - Enterprise Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2022
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East Side School fifth grade teacher Chris Pavlovich received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Photo courtesy of PAEMST

East Side School fifth grade teacher Chris Pavlovich received one of two Montana Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, the nation’s highest honor for K-12 teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“As teachers, we consistently and carefully reflect upon our practice for refinement. I truly believe teachers are in the top tier of professionals in the world. This has been an opportunity of deep reflection, and I am excited for the refinement it has spurred,” Pavlovich said. “The award represents a collective of learning experiences and growth with students and professional teams throughout my career for which I am most grateful. It is a great honor to stand among the ranks of such esteemed colleagues.”

Pavlovich has taught fifth grade at East Side for 10 years, after spending three teaching at Winans Elementary. She currently directs Watershed Warriors, a place-based, interdisciplinary environmental education program, according to her biography on the award website. Students in the program do such projects as identifying and monitoring pika habitats as indicators of climate change, and discussing cause and effect relationships of earth’s systems through local stream restoration projects.

“The dedication these individuals … have demonstrated to prepare students for careers in STEM fields, during what has been a difficult time for teachers, students, and families, plays a huge role in American innovation,” President Joe Biden stated in the awards announcement. “The work that teachers and mentors do ensures that our nation’s children are able to unlock — for themselves and all of us — a world of possibilities.”

Award recipients receive a certificate signed by the president, a paid trip to Washington, D.C., and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Awards go to two teachers from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense Education Activity schools and the U.S. territories as a group, the PAEMST website states.

Pavlovich was nominated for the award and completed the application in 2020. The process involves completing a three-phase application that includes a 30-minute video showing the teacher in action inside the classroom. Applications are reviewed at the state level, then the National Science Foundation, with the final approval made by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, explained Judy Boyle, PAEMST alumni representative. Pavlovich was also a finalist for the 2022 Montana Teacher of the Year Award.

“I’m blown away by community and school support as well as my teaching team and administrators,” Pavlovich said Friday morning.

Pavlovich knew straight out of high school that she wanted to be a teacher. But she also knew that teachers held an important role in the community and that she had to learn more about herself before stepping to the front of a classroom.

The Missouri native got on a Greyhound bus in 2005 and ended up in Livingston, dropped off right in front of the Murray Hotel, she said in September. It was Pavlovich’s first time seeing mountains. She stuck around, worked in Yellowstone National Park and traveled until she felt ready to attend Montana State University.

She’s since earned a master’s in science education from MSU and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. with a thesis on scientific literacy in K-12. She’s also grown Watershed Warriors, which she started here in Livingston, to include classrooms in Gardiner, Missoula and even Mongolia, through the Bozeman-based Taimen Fund.