Head of her class

Pepperman earns prestigious

A proud father visited the Blount Today offices recently and bragged a little about his daughter. He was right to be proud because she had just received the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th grade math or science teacher can receive.

Julie Pepperman earned the 2007 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Pepperman lives in Blount County and teaches eighth grade physical science at Bearden Middle School in Knoxville.

According to the Web site www.paemst.org, the PAEMST exemplifies the highest standards of math and science teaching. The recipients serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities and as leaders in the improvement of math and science education.

The selection process begins at the state level where three finalists are selected for each category. They receive the NSF Certificate of Honor in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Then, at the national level, the NSF convenes a selection committee composed of prominent mathematicians, scientists, mathematics and science educators and past awardees, who review the application packets of the state finalists and recommend to the president a single finalist in each category for each state or jurisdiction.

Pepperman said the application packet was basically a paper that included five components. “Each one covered a different aspect of teaching,” she said, including beliefs, philosophy and methods.

“And one was a video of you teaching. You had to break it down, second by second, by what strategies you used and what the kids did. Things like, were they responding and did it work,” she said.

Pepperman said it was as detailed as stopping the video and noting what strategy was used to convey a particular point and then noting the look on a child’s face to determine if they understood the material or not.

“It took a year. It was a lot of research. You had to cite everything,” she said.

Recipients of the award received a citation signed by the President, a paid trip for two to Washington, D.C. for a week of recognition events and professional development opportunities, gifts from sponsors around the country and a $10,000 educational grant to be used at the recipient’s discretion from the National Science Foundation.

Pepperman said she went to Washington on April 28. The first day she attended NSF science seminars on different subjects. “We got to meet scientists and teachers, pick which sessions we wanted to go to and have our pictures taken in the atrium of the NSF, which is so pretty on the inside,” she said.

Tuesday they attended a luncheon with the head of NASA and the heads of major national departments, such as agriculture and education.

“We had a roundtable discussion there. They asked about real-life teaching to help them develop policy. They asked a lot about ‘no child left behind,’” she said.

Wednesday they visited the White House. “We didn’t meet President Bush, but we did meet Vice President Cheney,” she said. Thursday they attended a Capitol Hill breakfast with congressmen and senators. “Then we saw Rep.(John J.) Duncan and Sen. (Lamar) Alexander and Sen.(Bob) Corker. We had a private tour of the Capitol Building.” They also did some sight-seeing and attended meetings with the Einstein Fellowship Foundation.

It was Thursday night, however, that Pepperman liked the best.

“Thursday was the most awesome night. We had dinner at the State Department. It was unbelievable to eat in the same place where they entertain heads of state. We saw the Treaty of Paris, Thomas Jefferson’s desk, and I could have moved into Martha Washington’s Lounge. The senators made it really special and played it up big. Their assistants were incredible, setting things up for us. It was unbelievable,” she said. Friday night they received their certificates signed by the President at the Academy of Science.

Pepperman has taught for 12 years and said she always wanted to be a teacher. “Even as a little girl I’d make my sisters sit there, and I’d teach them. My mom said it’s because I like the smell of new books and papers, and I love to fill out roll books,” she said.

“I like making that connection with other people. Middle school, eighth graders, are just developing. You get to see glimpses of what they’ll be as an adult, but they are still kids, and you can see the kid in them. The key is to be fair, firm and consistent,” she said. “That’s my motto.”

Pepperman holds PRAXIS certification as a middle school teacher in all subjects and as a beginning administrator. She has a B.A. in elementary education and an M.A. in educational administration from the University of New Orleans. Recently she was a standards facilitator for her school’s Southern Association of Colleges and Schools evaluation and she serves as a model trainer for the school district.

Pepperman wanted to thank her husband, Fred, and daughters, Kathryn, Mallory, Olivia and Grace, for their support and encouragement.

She also wanted to turn the tables and do a little bragging of her own. Her parents, Fred and Celeste Meunier, do a lot of volunteer work and received their own prestigious award.

“They won the Red Cross award the year Hurricane Katrina hit for all the work they did,” Pepperman said.

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