Northside Elementary's Joshua Bearden has a lot of accomplishments under his belt already, but he's about to get another one during the middle of the coming school year.
Bearden - who doesn't like to brag on himself much, and believes that much of what's been achieved is only due to the hard work of his students - is one of 38 educators who will be receiving a mouthful of an award - California Casualty AwQuestard for Teaching Excellence at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence.
He'll be heading with local educator Dorothy Welch, who nominated him for the award, to Washington, D.C. in February 2018 to receive the NEA Foundation's Salute to Excellence. It honors teachers who show " their dedication to the profession, community engagement, professional development, attention to diversity, and advocacy for fellow educators," according to the release sent out by the organization.
He said that after being prompted by Welch to participate and send information along to the Georgia Association of Educators about the Northside Elementary robotics program and the work done by himself and Kindergarten teacher Lawana Gurley's efforts to introduce more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math lessons in the classroom.
"Elementary students a chance to do something a lot aren't exposed to, and innovative because something Polk County hasn't done before," Beaden, who teaches fifth grade at Northside, said. "Teaching them about STEM education at a young age is what ultimately gets student more involved in looking at a future in STEM-related fields, which they can continue on with in middle school and then in high school at the Polk County College and Career Academy."
He said those efforts haven't been fully proven out yet, but since starting the Northside Robotics team he's gotten lots of students involved in that program and Science Olympiad, where they have competed during the past year at a regional level and brought home a number of awards.
Bearden's hope is that through these kinds of programs and focused lesson plans during the year on STEM days, which he said are "half a day or however long we do it, where each grade level does activities based off of science, technology, engineering and math that are all interconnected, even with language arts" make that impression and will show up as more lessons are introduced on annual standardized testing scores.
"What I've noticed a lot of in workshops that I've been to and events we've taken the students to is that when students are introduced to STEM activities on the elementary level, they not only have a better passion for science and math, and a reason to learn more about it," Bearden said.
Without the support of Gurley, who he said was his "right hand" when it comes to STEM programs and the support of principal Kenny Wallace, none of it would have been possible.
He plans to use any award money to continue funding efforts to provide Northside students with STEM activities, and to help out with the costs of Science Olympiad and the Northside Robotics program.
Bearden said that some of his supporters thus far with those programs have been in the form of donations from local organizations like Waste Industries. He said those interested in helping either program can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among the 38 state finalists, they were nominated by their National Education Association state affiliate, five finalists will be announced at the beginning of the school year and receive $10,000 at the gala.
The nation’s top educator will be revealed at the gala on Feb. 9, 2018 and receive an additional $25,000. The gala will be livestreamed at neafoundation.org.
The NEA Foundation and the National Education Association jointly present the awards.
Standard Journal Editor Kevin Myrick contributed to this report.