By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times
Bush Hills STEAM Academy on Thursday became the first Birmingham City School (BCS) school to earn COGNIA certification which is awarded to schools that have two years of Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) programs for its students and meet rigorous performance standards.
“This prestigious certification is an honor and a testament to the incredible work the students, leaders and educators have put into this program,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan. “We are proud of our educators and our scholars at Bush Hills STEAM Academy.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Tyson, District 8 School Board Representative, Sonja Smith and other school leaders were at Bush Hills STEAM Academy as Tyson presented $63,300 to elementary and middle schools in Birmingham’s 8th district.
Those schools include:
- Bush K-8
- Bush Hills STEAM Academy
- Brown elementary
- Central Park Elementary
- Minor Elementary
- Princeton Elementary
- Green Acres Middle School
“Birmingham City Schools [BCS] have done so much for me,” said Tyson. “I can’t speak for everybody else, but I know what they have done for me in my life… [BCS] have fueled the vision that I have for myself and for my community. “We got to do more than cleanup outside of the schools. We have to clean up in our kids heads, in their heart, and make sure they are learning.”
Tiffani Rocker Stewart, interim principal of Bush Hills STEAM Academy, said the funding will help with scholarships within the academy “and really push our STEAM initiative forward,” she said. “…this is just a steppingstone to the upward trajectory that we are headed in.”
Millennium High School’s David Wirth has been named the 2021 National Physics Teacher of the Year.
The award, presented by PhysTEC, an association of institutions dedicated to improving and promoting K-12 physics and physical science teacher education, referred to Wirth’s classroom and teaching abilities as “inspirational.”
“I was nominated for the award by professors from Arizona State University, and I won the Local Teacher of the Year award,” Wirth said.
“I was excited about that, but then I realized that I won the National Teacher Award. I was both shocked and humbled. I know some great physics teachers, and to be even considered at that same level is an honor.”
A 29-year teacher, Wirth advocates for science at Millennium, as he started a Science Olympiad club on campus to provide further opportunities with STEM. Wirth also challenges his students to build applicable Science Olympiad projects in class and then compete at the state level.
Wirth has been a teacher at Millennium for about 20 years and said the community feeling on campus is unmatched.
“I really enjoy the people,” he said. “The community has some pretty amazing families, and they send some fantastic students to our high school. The kids we get are well-rounded, respectful and they have a desire to learn, and working with those kids is amazing.”
Wirth has played a major role in the development and growth of the physics department at Millennium, according to Principal Todd Stevens.
“Mr. Wirth’s passion for physics is contagious. His innovative teaching methods have inspired students to explore math and science,” Stevens said. “Mr. Wirth brings excitement to our campus. He has provided numerous STEAM opportunities for students with the Science Olympiad Club, Physics Bowl and Physics Photo Contest. His efforts are definitely guiding our students to study science in college and pursue it as a career path.”
Wirth has earned more than $50,000 in grants for classroom equipment, all to instill a passion for science in his students.
It’s safe to say he was successful in doing so, as Wirth’s physics enrollment has quadrupled, and Wirth said he can see his students’ confidence with the material and themselves skyrocket.
“I use the modeling methods. It was developed at ASU, and the idea is you just don’t give students a formula itself,” Wirth said. “The modeling method has students develop the formulas or models themselves. So, the students will perform a lab, they’ll collect data, analyze the data and develop models, then use the models to solve problems. It develops a much deeper level of learning.”
Outside of Millennium’s campus, aside from prioritizing his wife, two children and two grandchildren, Wirth is passionate about physics and physics education.
Wirth co-founded STEMCon, an annual districtwide expo that drew nearly 1,000 students to explore science and math in 2020. He also participated in the “I am a Scientist” campaign to provide his students with role models in the science field.
He is working with Jeff Andretti on writing curriculum materials for a new middle school STEM program that integrates modeling techniques. The program will go national later this year.
While Wirth is proud of the award and recognition, he said he plans to continue his work to build a platform for students to discover a better understanding and passion for physics.
“It’s a fun job, a lot of satisfaction, not just physics but teaching students how to think. It’s satisfying helping the students to better understand the world around them, and that nature has some really cool relationships that are really fun to understand,” Wirth said.
“Just challenge the students, get them to think and get them to go to a higher level and realize that their learning can be fun. It’s not just about a grade. It’s about learning something new and challenging yourself.”
VAN WERT – On Wednesday, members of the Van Wert Service Club met to announce this year’s winners of the R.K. Thompson Self-Reliance Award. The R.K. Thompson Self-Reliance Award is given to the female and male senior student who does the best with what she or he has. This year’s winners were Jamie Burenga of Van Wert and Peter McMaster of Lincolnview.
Jamie Burenga is a member of National Honor Society, Beta Club, Symphonic and Marching Band and also competes on the tennis and swim teams at Van Wert High School. She is a member of First United Methodist Church youth group.
After graduation, Burenga plans to attend the University of Dayton majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in either environmental engineering or sustainability. Burenga interned with Kenn-Feld Group through the CEO program and has served as a lifeguard at the YMCA.
Service Club member Kimberly Laudick read Burenga’s self-reliance and reference letters. She noted that to Burenga, “self-reliance means creating opportunities for myself, being an agent for my education, and advocating for myself.”
Throughout high school, Burenga researched and attended summer engineering camps in an attempt to explore different career paths, noted Laudick.
“Jamie is often sought out as a team leader because of her work ethic, positive attitude, and perseverance to face the tough challenges,” said one of Burenga’s references. “Jamie has a maturity surpassing most high school students. She has been a joy to have as a student.”
Burenga is the daughter of Thomas and Julie Burenga.
Other female finalists included Madison Langdon of Lincolnview, Elaina O’Neill of Lincolnview, Kassidy Ringwald of Lincolnview, and Sarah Thomas of Crestview.
Peter McMaster is a member of the National Honor Society, Scholastic Bowl, Beta Club president, Science Club president, team captain of Science Olympiad, founder and president of the Math Club and also competes on the basketball team at Lincolnview High School.
McMaster volunteers his time with Charis House, Van Wert County Animal Shelter, KBA Basketball and is a member of Calvary Evangelical Church. After high school, he plans to continue his education earning a degree in astrophysics then a PhD. Peter is currently employed at Subway.
Service Club member Mark Schumm read McMaster’s self-reliance and reference letters.
In his own words, read Schumm, McMaster writes, “To me, self-reliance is not an action or specific incidence, it is a mentality. To be self-reliant means you are not afraid to take risks or go outside your comfort zone. It means that you are confident enough in your abilities to bet on yourself in a situation even when you do not know the outcome.”
“What has always impressed me about Peter is his ability to see all of the details of a problem or situation as well as the implications of various decisions regarding that problem or situation,” wrote McMaster’s teacher reference. “That is why I call him both a global and local thinker. He’s a very fun student to converse with, plus he is extremely bright without flaunting his intelligence. Peter pushed me to be a better teacher, which I will always appreciate.”
McMaster is the son of Matthew and Pamela McMaster.
Other male finalists included Cole Gorman of Lincolnview, Jordan Hurless of Van Wert, Clayton Leeth of Lincolnview, and Killian Sudduth of Vantage.
This year’s award marked the 51st year. Finalists received $500 and a plaque. Winners received an extra $500.