By David Fong
TROY — On a steamy August afternoon several weeks ago, Susan Dankworth and her teenage daughter, Taylor, were putting the finishing touches on her classroom at Hook Elementary School. The Dankworth family was getting ready to leave on vacation and Susan wanted to make sure he classroom was in order before they departed.
She was getting ready to leave the building for the day, but the fifth grade math and social studies teacher had one last task she wanted to accomplish.
Little did she know opening her email would change her life.
“It was 3:31 p.m. on Aug. 12, exactly,” Dankworth said, the memory of the moment causing a warm smile to stretch across her face. “I was shutting down and getting ready to go home. I happened to pull up my email and saw it …”
It was an email letting Dankworth know she was one of two educators from Ohio — and one of 213 from across the nation — who had been selected as a recipient of the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The award is given to outstanding K-12 mathematics and science teachers from across the country. The winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process at the state level.
“When I saw it was from them, I was afraid to open it,” Dankworth said. “When I opened it, my daughter started yelling and I started crying. It was overwhelming.”
Dankworth, a 1985 Troy High School graduate and a graduate of The Ohio State University, will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and will attend an awards ceremony, as well as educational and celebratory events, Sept. 7-9 in Washington, D.C. She’ll have the opportunity to tour the White House and, if he’s available, meet with President Barack Obama or members of his administration.
“The recipients of this award are integral to ensuring our students are equipped with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to our nation’s success,” President Obama said in a press release. “As the United States continues to lead the way in the innovation that is shaping our future, these excellent teachers are preparing students from all corners of the country with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills that help keep us on the cutting-edge.”
One of the reasons Dankworth was honored was because of her collaborative approach to teaching mathematics to students.
“I decided I wasn’t going to do things just from the textbook,” she said. “I want students to see why something works and how something works and not just be told what to do. I don’t want them to just memorize facts — memorization doesn’t work.”
The honor has been a long time coming for Dankworth. She was initially nominated by Hook Elementary School principal Penny Johnson in March of 2014.
“I had watched her give presentations at Wright State University, plus I had seen her in the classroom,” Johnson said. “When I saw what she could do and the way she reached students, I thought, ‘Other people need to see this.’ We are so fortunate to have her here at our school.”
From there, Dankworth had to fill out an eight-page application, three letters of recommendation, a resume, a complete lesson plan and a 45-minute uninterrupted video of her teaching in her classroom.
“They actually had webinars we had to watch to make sure we were submitting all the materials, because it was such a long process,” Dankworth said with a laugh. “At one point, I began to wonder how many people actually follow through with the whole process.”
In July of 2014, she learned she had been named one of five finalists for the state of Ohio. The process would continue for more than two years — with updates along the way — before Dankworth finally found out she had been selected as one of the winners.
The wait, however, was more than worth it. Since it was announced one week ago she had been named one of the recipients of the award, Dankworth said the response from family, friends, colleagues, media members and the community has been non-stop.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the response,” she said. “It’s been extremely overwhelming. It’s kind of funny, because I obviously never got into teaching to ever win any awards. I love coming here. I laugh every day I’m here. I’ve always told people that I don’t really consider this work. I’m fortunate to have this opportunity.
“Now every time I open my Facebook, I see between 30 or 40 notifications from people congratulating me. It’s been a very humbling experience. I’m so thankful to have the opportunities I have here at Hook and in the Troy City School District.”