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.”
For the second consecutive year, the Seal of Biliteracy has been awarded to students at Cleburne High School who have obtained fluency in two or more languages by graduation and met the academic standards required for the national recognition.
The recipients, all 2021 graduates, include Michelle Cruz, Ashley Hernandez, Tamara Reyes, Sandra Solis, Kevin Duran, Juan Mares Ramirez, Yaritza Rojas, Ashley Vega-Enamorado, Arlett Garcia, Gisell Ortiz, Jose Sanchez, Denisse Garcia, Sydney Pioquinto, Rhadja Silva and Brenda Zamora Chavez.
To be eligible for the award designation, students had to maintain a B average throughout high school, pass their English I and English II End of Course exams and achieve a score of 3 or higher on an advanced placement test in an upper level foreign language course. Among the honorees, six were members of the 2021 Top Ten Percent, including Zamora Chavez who was valedictorian.
“The Seal of Biliteracy is a national award that has been adopted by the state, with the Texas Education Agency setting the criteria,” said Christy Burton, CISD director of World Languages. “We felt in implementing the Seal of Biliteracy initiative at the high school it would be a good opportunity for our students, in recognizing them for their unique skills. They have mastered biliteracy, bilingualism and multiculturalism, which are the three pillars within bilingual education. It is a statement of accomplishment for both college admissions and future employment.
The Seal of Biliteracy designation is included on the graduate’s transcript and an actual seal on their diploma.
“Despite the challenges of COVID, our number of honorees grew from 10 in 2019-20 to 15 this year,” Burton said. “I credit our teachers in the CHS Foreign Language Department for the important role they provided in the achievements of these students. They seek out students to take on the level of academic commitment required for the Seal of Biliteracy, and encourage them as they work toward the achievement. These teachers amaze me with their level of dedication.”
Silva, who was among the academic leaders within the Class of 2021, came to Cleburne from Brazil. When she enrolled as a fourth-grader at Santa Fe Elementary School, Portuguese was her first — and only language.
“It was so terrifying,” Silva said. “It was hard to be in a place where I was not understood, and didn’t know what people were saying to me or about me.”
The Santa Fe staff, led by her bilingual teacher Marcia Byrd, a fellow native of Brazil whose first language is also Portuguese, worked quickly to take the “terror” out of Silva’s transition to Texas. At the end of the school day, English as a Second Language Specialist Amy Easter would take over as Silva used Rosetta Stone language software to build on her mastery of a second language.
“I knew it was necessary for me to learn English,” Silva said. “In Brazil, we learned some English — the colors, the names of animals — but that was far from learning a whole new language.”
By the second half of her fifth-grade year, Silva reached a major milestone in her pursuit of English. She attributes her drive and determination, coupled with the support she received from Byrd.
“I think by the middle of fifth grade I was bilingual,” she said. “Everything just clicked. By the fifth grade I could have a normal conversation in English with anyone, while still speaking Portuguese at home. My determination to learn played a big part. I was trying so hard to speak in English — and understand. It took a lot of perseverance. Mrs. Byrd was my teacher, but also a great comfort to me. She was someone who understood my circumstances. Thanks to her, I also began learning Spanish.”
By the time she was in high school, Silva was showing her proficiency in her third language, in making a perfect score on the Spanish 4 AP exam.
“I was real proud of myself for that,” she said. “In learning English, then Spanish, I had to try harder, and be more determined — but that helped me get where I am. Receiving the Seal of Biliteracy made me think back to the fourth grade and that early struggle to learn English. This award gave me such a feeling of accomplishment.”
In addition to finishing in the Top Ten Percent, Silva was president of Rotary International’s Interact Club for high school students, served as parliamentarian of National Honor Society and was president of National Spanish Honor Society. Silva competed three years on the Showstoppers Dance Team, serving as captain as a senior.
She also achieved her certified nurse aide state certification as a health sciences student in the CHS Career and Technical Education program. Silva is now living in College Station and about to begin her first semester at Texas A&M University, where she is double majoring in biology and Spanish, with a minor in pre-med. She is also working as a CNA on the surgical floor at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center.
“Adding the Seal of Biliteracy national recognition is a reflection of the opportunities we want to make available to students in CISD,” Burton said. “As students’ transition from the 50/50 dual language model, this is the final milestone in their bilingual journey that starts in kindergarten.
“With the numbers we are seeing in our dual language program, and how it is expanding to middle school, it ensures our students will be able to participate and achieve in high school, including the rigors of advanced placement courses,” Burton said. “It’s also exciting in hearing from bilingual teachers interested in our district and what we are doing in our two-way dual language initiative.”
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