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Thom Smith, a Kearsarge Regional Elementary School teacher, was recently awarded the 2016 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Thom Smith, a Kearsarge Regional Elementary School teacher, was recently awarded the 2016 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Bradford Teacher Thom Smith Awarded 2016 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical

Smith wants to get elementary school teachers and their students excited about science

CONCORD, NH (Press Release) – If Thom Smith has anything to do with it, elementary school science education in New Hampshire is about to get a boost.

Smith, a Kearsarge Regional Elementary School teacher, has been awarded the 2016 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The sabbatical, created in 1986 in honor of the Concord High School teacher and astronaut and administered by the Foundation, gives an exemplary New Hampshire teacher a year off with pay and a materials budget to bring a great educational idea to fruition.

Smith wants to give elementary school teachers – and college students studying to be elementary school teachers – tools and education to help them be more effective science teachers. Teacher training in elementary school science often lags behind training in other critically important subjects like math and reading, Smith said.

“My hope is that student teachers will feel prepared and excited to teach science at the elementary level,” Smith said, “and that the elementary school teachers that I work with will come away from my workshops with a renewed enthusiasm about science, and will develop their own ideas about how to improve science instruction.”

Smith will create a curriculum focused on the ecosystem of the state’s rocky shoreline – in partnership with the UNH SeaTrek Program, Seacoast Science Center, New England Aquarium and a local artist and book publisher. Smith’s curriculum will be made available at no cost to New Hampshire school districts. And he will travel the state offering free professional development workshops for teachers and for college students aspiring to be teachers.

“We know that interest and proficiency in math and science decreases as kids progress through school,” said Hilary DeAngelis, manager of student aid at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. “Thom’s project will help teachers engage kids in science, and excite them about science – and hopefully kids will carry that excitement with them as they move into middle school and high school and beyond.

“An increasing number of jobs in New Hampshire are in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields,” DeAngelis added. “It’s great to think that a project like Thom’s may help kids imagine a future for themselves in science.”

Smith, who lives in Bradford, has been teaching at the Kearsarge Regional Elementary School in Bradford for eight years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education from Nyack College in New York and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from New England College. He was a past finalist for a McAuliffe Sabbatical, won an Educator of Promise Award and an Excellence in Teaching Award from Nyack College.

The Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical was established by then-Gov. John H. Sununu and the New Hampshire legislature to honor McAuliffe’s life and work.

“To receive an award created to honor Christa McAuliffe, that is like a dream come true. That is an unbelievable honor,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity I’ll be forever thankful for. Being an educator, and receiving an award named after Christa McAuliffe is kind of the equivalent of winning the World Series.”

The statewide program has been administered by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation since 1990 with oversight from a steering committee made up of representatives from the office of the governor and the State Board of Education, the President of the New Hampshire Senate, the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the Presidents of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers and a McAuliffe family member.

About the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation was created in 1962 by and for the people of New Hampshire, and is dedicated to strengthening communities across the Granite State. The Foundation manages a growing collection of 1,700 philanthropic funds created by generous families, individuals and businesses, and awards more than $30 million in grants and scholarships every year. The Foundation invests charitable assets for today and tomorrow; works with generous and visionary citizens to maximize the power of their giving; supports critical work happening in New Hampshire communities and leads and collaborates on high-impact initiatives. For more information, please visit www.nhcf.org or call 603-225-6641.