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June 21, 2011 > Newark selects Tom Collett as Teacher of the Year

Newark selects Tom Collett as Teacher of the Year

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By courtesy of Tom Collett

"Newark Junior High School is loaded with talented, dedicated, hardworking teachers all worthy of this award. I was surprised and overwhelmed to be honored as Newark Unified School District's Teacher of the Year. It was a very proud moment to receive the district honors in front of my family and friends on May 17," says Tom Collett. An additional acknowledgement was given by the Newark Rotary at the May 26 Newark City Council meeting.

Among those who had nominated 8th grade Physical Science teacher Collett, were staff members and Principal Catherine Ward-Mikes of Newark Junior High School (NJHS). "His commitment to students is second to none," she explained. "At NJHS, every team member is a productive member. You recognize quickly that it is often difficult to stand out, when you are surrounded by professionals who give 100 percent every day. Tom stands out to us all."

Ward-Mikes says, "At school, Mr. Collett is at his [classroom] door, ready to greet every student with enthusiasm. When the teaching begins, it is as if you are watching a performance from beginning to the end. From protons, neutrons and electrons to physics and rocketry, he makes it all so fascinating! He inspires his students and there is a true desire to achieve higher and higher."

This has been Collett's first year at Newark Junior High; for 17 years he taught Earth Science Astronomy and Aerospace Science, and Docents in Science and Society at Newark Memorial High School. There, his involvement and determination led him to write several courses, create and implement the Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Institute, as well as serve as a Technology Mentor and Earth Science Lead Teacher.

Over the years, Collett's dedication to the students and community of Newark is one characteristic that set him apart. He spent innumerable hours with students outside of his school day maintaining the NMHS MaST Aquarium, and organized open house events for the community as well as astronomy evenings to give residents an opportunity to view wonders of the universe through telescopes.

In 2006, Collett earned the Accenture Teacher of the Year award. Accenture and the Chabot Space and Science Center (CSSC) created this award, which honors excellence in science teaching in an effort to bring visibility to the importance of science education in the public schools.

Overall, one of the most exciting science inquiry projects he has enabled students to "do" was the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), the world's largest model rocketry competition. Back in 2004 his students qualified for the TARC national finals in Virginia with a nearly perfect flight of 1,251 feet where the target altitude was 1,250 ft. He organized the trip, secured funding, and escorted his students to the event.

Next school year, 2011-2012, should prove to be equally exciting, as Collett will bring the TARC to Newark Junior High School.

Collett says some of his proudest moments have come from working with his students. One particularly memorable occurrence was when he watched former student, Christina Gutierrez graduate from California State University Los Angeles with a Baccalaureate Degree in Aviation. She became the first member of her family to attend and complete college. Both she and her family credit Tom for being the instrumental motivator for this great accomplishment.

Kerry Knight, Science Department Chair at Newark Junior High comments, "Tom has been a great addition to our science team. He has brought with him an infusion of positive energy and creativity to the department. He is a dynamic teacher who engages his students and makes learning fun. He is the human version of the Energizer Bunny; he keeps on going and going and provides all of his classes with an energetic, positive learning environment."

Collett adds, "I guess this is a once in a career opportunity, if you get lucky."

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