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Berrendo Middle teacher receives statewide award

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Educator Ashley Stroud, center, instructs her students Aidan Kinnally, 14, (left) and Savannah Deterich, 11, on the editing stage of their stop-motion films on Jan. 24. Stroud has been notified that she is the recipient of a STEMYS award. (Alison Penn Photo)

Ashley Stroud is one of eight NM teachers to be recognized

Award-winning is becoming a science for educators at Berrendo Middle School (BMS). Educator Ashley Stroud will be receiving a $1,500 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) award at the end of the month.

The award — from the Air Force Research Lab Tech Engagement Office in Albuquerque — is called the 2019 Excellence in STEM Awards, or the STEMYS, and honors “students, teachers, volunteers and other New Mexicans doing remarkable things in science, technology, engineering and math education.” Statewide, eight teachers and five schools will be receiving STEMYS. The awards ceremony is Feb. 22 in Albuquerque.

Stroud, 34, is the middle school teacher honored statewide for her classroom accomplishments at BMS. Saying she is still “kind of new” as a teacher, Stroud has been teaching for 10 years and said she felt “very honored” to be recognized and nominated.

In the fall, Jessica Sanders, another STEM teacher at BMS, was recognized as the NM Teacher of the Year.

“It’s learning your kiddos and what they need,” Stroud said of being a successful teacher. “As a teacher, I’m never done learning … I think it’s known that you are never done learning yourself, and trying to just implement new things in your classroom to better yourself.”

Stroud laughed and said she was notified by an email about the award last week and forwarded it to the principal, questioning if it was spam. In the NMTEACH rating system, Stroud said she was ranked as highly effective her first year teaching in New Mexico, and this year was ranked as an exemplary educator, the highest distinction. She said this is her first formal teaching award.

Making learning fun and providing real-world applications for her students is Stroud’s top priority in her classroom. She says she works with around 170 students. Her class is called “exploratory” and is a STEM-based project class that began as a gifted enrichment class last year. In working with her principal, Stroud said the class has expanded from this idea to include all students and mixed grades.

“I would say it’s just the lightbulb moment … it’s seeing whenever their creation actually turns out the way they wanted to and they get all excited about it,” Stroud said of moments that standout in the classroom. “That’s the goal, is for them to love learning. I just fear so many kids — we have such horrible dropout rates and across the nation — kiddos just don’t like school anymore, and so I am trying to bring that joy of learning again into the classroom. And so when I see those smiles on their face and the lightbulbs turn on and then I am like ‘Yes, OK, I’ve done my job. I did what I was supposed to do.’”

Balloon-powered vehicles, Barbie Doll bungee jumping to learn exponential equations, pinball machines and participating in the annual National Geographic GeoChallenge — focused on crafting a solution for plastic pollution — were some of the projects Stroud listed that her class has completed this year. Stroud said she combines standards from other subjects into the projects.

As a student, Stroud said math was her favorite subject, but fell “in love with teaching science” due to the hands-on aspect. In her class, she said a majority of the projects are engineering-focused. She said technology is an area that she would love to grow in and bring 3D printing and robotics into her skillset and classroom.

Stroud’s own education was from Del Norte Elementary School, Berrendo Middle School and she graduated from Goddard High School in 2003. Since she was a student at BMS 20 years ago, Stroud said it is “fun to be back in her home middle school.”

Reflecting on her own education, Stroud said her two math teachers in middle school and a “handful” of other teachers influenced her. She said the reason she is a middle school teacher is because she remembers how difficult that time was, as a pre-teen, and how her teachers helped her through it.

After high school, Stroud explored graphic design and event planning, but found her calling to become an educator after tutoring a fellow student. Stroud attended University of Mary Hardin Baylor, where she finished her bachelor’s business degree in management. After becoming alternatively certified in Texas as a teacher in math and science, Stroud taught for seven years in schools in the Waco, Texas area.

Stroud said she finished her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction for science from the University of Texas in Arlington and is working on her gifted teaching endorsement.

As well as being a teacher, Stroud is a wife, mother of three children (ages ranging from 10 months to 7 years) and a woman of faith. In her free time, Stroud works out three to five times per week at Crash City CrossFit. Stroud said her own mother was an educator and helps her with her children.

“Mrs. Stroud is an energetic, thoughtful teacher who has student success foremost in her mind,” BMS Principal Licia Hillman wrote to the Daily Record. “She is continually reflecting on her teaching methods to make adjustments to better meet the needs of her students. She is an advocate for flexible seating and individual learning plans for all students. She challenges students beyond their comfort zones to get them to achieve greater success. She is a cross-curricular teacher that connects science, technology, engineering and math to create real-world learning. It is a pleasure to work with Mrs. Stroud!”

Hillman said she and Angie McDonald, the family consumer science teacher, nominated Stroud for the STEMY award. Stroud said one of her student’s parents nominated her and appreciated that an administrator, teacher and parent nominated her.

“The reason I nominated Ashley is because she is an extremely dedicated teacher,” McDonald emailed the Daily Record. “It’s inspiring to see her put together such interesting and innovative STEM lessons, and care so deeply about her students. She makes me want to be a better teacher.”

Community involvement is another passion of Stroud’s in her personal and professional life. Stroud said she is constantly seeking opportunities to bring the community into her classroom or vice versa. She shared collaborations with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, Roswell Museum and Art Center and Chef Toddzilla’s Gourmet Burgers as examples.

Students Isaiah Herrera and Annessa Dietrich both said the taco truck project with Chef Toddzilla’s was their favorite experience in the class. Stroud explained her students asked the owners of Toddzilla’s questions and used the project to teach them area, volume and perimeter when they built their own taco trucks. Dietrich, 11, said this is her favorite class because “it teaches you so many different things you’d never thought you’d really need.”

“Mrs. Stroud is a great teacher,” Herrera, 12, said. “She always makes sure you understand before she goes on with something. She’ll always take time out of her day to help somebody else.”

“This is my first year having her — she’s amazing,” Dietrich said of Stroud. “She has so many awesome projects we get to do and honestly, you don’t really get to do this in most classes. There’s free seating. When you’re in groups, you learn how to get along with each other … She’s an awesome teacher because whenever someone is confused or something, she’ll try and help them out. And when she tries to help them out, she gives them an idea of, if this doesn’t work, you can try something else like this.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.