Dexter teacher named Science Teacher of the Year

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Denise Dutcher, a teacher at Creekside Intermediate School, is doing her best to inspire and educate her students.

For that, she’s been recognized by the University of Michigan Chapter of Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Honor Society, as its 2020-2021 Science Teacher of the Year, for the Greater Washtenaw County area.

“We are thrilled that Denise was honored for her hard work and dedication to her students and the teaching profession,” Creekside principal Tammy Reich said. “Mrs. Dutcher finds multiple ways to connect with her students and has a passion for science that excites and motivates students to engage in learning. Thank you to the University of Michigan Chapter of Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Honor Society for their recognition.”

According to Henry Buchtel, Ph.D., President of the University of Michigan Chapter of Sigma Xi, Dutcher was picked because she was nominated by fellow Dexter area teacher, Jane Webby, and was the most appropriate candidate for this award among the other nominees.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society, “is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition,” according to the U of M chapter’s website.

Many top scientists, including many Nobel laureates, are members of Sigma Xi.

“The Council looks for a teacher who, in the words of the nomination solicitation letter, ‘excites, intrigues, and inspires the imagination and potential of his/her students’,” Buchtel said.

In addition, one of the Sigma Xi Council members had also heard of Dutcher's excellence in science teaching and enthusiastically supported the nomination, Buchtel said.

The Sun Times News caught up with Dutcher to get her reaction.

She quickly cited herself as just one of many teachers doing their best to inspire and educate, especially over this past year during the COVID pandemic.

“Quite frankly, every educator should be recognized for their accomplishments this year,” Dutcher said. “It's been a tough year for teachers, yet they have been so resilient!”

She also said she could not be more proud of her teaching partner of 13 years, Jane Webby, and the staff at Creekside Intermediate.

“They have worked tirelessly to make learning fun and engaging for all students, while supporting their colleagues,” said Dutcher.

As far as the individual honor, she said, “Personally, I am both grateful and humbled by the award. I absolutely love teaching math and science and when I hear kids say, "Oh...I get it!" or "That's SO cool!", it makes my day. I have always thought of teaching as my calling since both of my parents as well as my grandmother were educators.”

In answering the question of how one keeps students engaged during virtual learning, Dutcher said, “As you may know, remote learning has had its share of challenges.”

“Thankfully, our building uses a personalized and project-based learning program called Summit Learning,” she said. “The resources that exist within the platform help to keep the kids engaged and supported. More importantly, I have found that by mentoring students 1:1, I've been able to make connections with them. Students that feel known and respected, will want to work harder. Additionally, games are a great way to make learning fun. Who doesn't love a great game?!”

Now that Creekside is back to a hybrid model, hands-on materials are utilized whenever possible, she said, while adding, “learning is so much more fun when kids are active!”

The first week of February was Microscope Week in science. She said it was good to hear the "Ooohs" and "Aaahs."

“Teaching to me means inspiring children to want to be more curious and to continue to wonder about the world around them,” she said when asked what her profession means to her.

“I have such high hopes for my students and dream that someday they will be amazing problem solvers--discovering cures for diseases, finding solutions to climate change and more!” she said. “I also hope that they find a "spark" while in my classroom--something that makes them want to dig deeper, read more, go to a museum, or talk to an expert. Kids bring me such great joy and I am incredibly proud to be a teacher.”

In the past, Sigma Xi honored teachers-of-the-year at their annual meeting and banquet, but because of the pandemic, they canceled the 2020 meeting and postponed the meeting and awards ceremony to 2021. Dutcher will be honored during a virtual (Zoom) awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

In addition to an Award Certificate, Buchtel said Dutcher will receive a substantial cash award from a contribution to the Chapter from Pfizer Foundation of Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical company.

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