WOOD RIVER JCT. — Two Chariho teachers have each received a top national teaching award.
Kristina Sparfven, a mathematics specialist at Chariho Middle School, and Lindsay Bliven, who teaches math at Ashaway Elementary School, have each won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.
Administered by the National Science Foundation, the awards, which were announced on Oct. 15, recognize outstanding mathematics and science teachers from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.
“The teachers are recognized for their contributions to teaching and learning and their ability to help students make progress in mathematics and science,” the White House said in its announcement.
The award comes with a $10,000 cash prize from the National Science Foundation. "The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teaching, " the announcement said. The selection process was highly secretive.
After being named finalists, Bliven and Sparfven were planning their trip to Washington, D.C., not knowing if they had won.
“I did not get official word that I had won this prestigious award until literally moments before my husband and I boarded the plane for Washington, D.C., two weeks ago,” Bliven said. “It was then that the White House made their official press release, announcing my name as the 2018 awardee from Rhode Island, kindergarten to sixth grade in mathematics. Shockingly, I was only contacted two weeks prior, told not tell anyone, and had to make travel arrangements for my trip to Washington D.C.”
Sparfven said she had been delighted to hear that Bliven had also won.
“We did not know that each other had won until the announcement came out,” she said. “We knew that we were both finalists for the state, so when we found out that it was going to be the two of us there, it was really exciting.”
Administrators and teachers at both schools celebrated the recognition.
“I'm prouder than can be of Lindsay and and Kristina, Presidential Excellence Award Winners in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering,” Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said. “They represent the best of their colleagues, who truly understand the importance of expert, relevant and rigorous instruction.”
Middle school Principal Gregory Zenion said, “It’s a great honor to have Kris nominated for this award and for having her selected as a Rhode Island finalist. We are proud of her work with our students. She is dedicated to improving mathematical thinking for all students.”
Ashaway Principal Jeffrey Scanapieco described Bliven as always being ready to take on new programs and challenges.
“Lindsay is very data-driven,” he said. “She takes on a lot of new initiatives and she really excels in a lot of the elementary content, mathematics, science and STEM. She’s a great resource to all the terraces in the building and has no problem taking on new initiatives when someone asks her to.”
Both Bliven and Sparfven credited their success to their schools’ work environments and their colleagues.
“I look around and I really work with great people,” Sparfven said. “It’s a great place to work. Everybody’s working as hard as I am. I was just lucky enough to have been nominated for this award.”
Bliven added, “This extremely reflective process rejuvenates my drive to continually improve my practice and help foster a lifelong love of mathematics in my students. I feel so lucky to have been nominated by my fellow colleague, Clare Ornburn, and pinch myself everyday I get to work at 5-Star rated, Blue Ribbon awarded, Ashaway Elementary School.”
Two other Rhode Island teachers were among the 215 honorees (108 for Grades 7-12, 107 for K-6): David Upegui, a science teacher at Central Falls High School, his alma mater; and Kerri Luchka, currently a math and science teacher at Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School in Coventry. Her award was for teaching at her previous job at the Western Coventry Elementary School.