E. Palo Alto teacher to receive Presidential Award

An East Palo Alto teacher is heading to the White House in March to be recognized by President Obama.
January 29, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
An East Palo Alto teacher is heading to the White House in March to be recognized by President Obama. Suney Park will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

It was something that happened during her childhood that made Park want to help students achieve. She loves to engage with her students. She admits to being goofy and loves to play out scenarios while doing science with her 6th-grade class at Eastside College Preparatory in East Palo Alto.

"Forty degrees north! Get a chair! Excuse me, yes, chair! 40 degrees north latitude," she said while teaching a lesson about latitude and longitude, then using that information to identify continents.

"We're having fun while she's teaching us because she does funny things," one student said.

"It's easier to understand," said another.

A Stanford University science teacher nominated her for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Her students had worked on a project on climate change, similar to one which appears on the Teaching Channel website. Only two awards are given per state. She and even her students had doubts -- and then, she made a deal with two of them.

"If I get this and you're probably right, I probably won't, we're going to have a big steak dinner and I hope you learn a lesson that anything's possible," she told ABC7 News. She learned that the hard way when she was just 11-years-old.

"I moved to Korea in my sixth-grade year after being born and raised here, and I failed everything, and I was an outsider and I was an outcast," she recalled. That bad experience made her want to teach students who are at a disadvantage.

Eastside was created to help kids who are underserved and underrepresented at four-year colleges. The school opened in 1996. Two Stanford graduates wanted a high-quality education for those who couldn't afford it. The first group of students graduated in 2000. Park says she wouldn't want to teach anywhere else.

In late December she got an email from the White House. She had won and will now go to Washington in March. "It's going to be very cool to see him. My kids are like, 'What are you going to do? Are you going to shake his hand? Are you going to hug him?' Are you going to give him a fist punch?' I said, 'I don't know yet. I'm still thinking,'" Park said.

When she gets back, she knows she has a debt to settle -- that steak dinner she owes her students.


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