Buckeye Valley High School graduate Nathan Yaussy, a biology and life science teacher at Fairport Harding Early College High School in Fairport Harbor, is the sole Ohio educator to receive the 2019-20 Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation.
The award, which has been hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher magazine, is accompanied by an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.
In an all-school assembly, in front of cheering students, fellow educators, officials, and under the facade of promoting the school’s early college model, Yaussy, who was caught off guard, learned it was him who had won the award.
“My first thought was it’s a neat award,” Yaussy told The Gazette. “My second thought was I’m never going to get it. It was then that they announced my name.”
The announcement was part of the Milken Family Foundation’s coast-to-coast tour surprising outstanding educators with the Milken Educator Award and its accompanying unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Yaussy is one of 40 to be honored during this school year.
A press release issued by the Milken Family Foundation states Yaussy helps his “students learn about science in an atmosphere of fun, fascination, and wonder.” His classes are so sought after by students that school administrators rearranged the class schedules so as not to conflict the marching band rehearsals.
In the classroom, Yaussy teaches about sound waves through the use of silly noises, crystallization by making rock candy, building boats from trash to launch into Lake Erie to increase pollution awareness, and in his anatomy class, students create clues for a fictitious murder through their knowledge of forensics for next year’s class to solve.
Yaussy said his interest in science began when his father taught him statistics for a seventh grade science fair project.
“He always made a big deal to teach me science,” Yaussy said. “My dream job was doing something in the middle of the woods with a machine that goes beep.”
That idea of sitting in the middle of woods with a beeping machine changed while doing research as part of his master’s program in environmental science.
“While sitting there with a five-gallon bucket of dead bugs and a microscope, I figured out that I needed someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of,” he said. “I realized that I enjoy talking to people, explaining science to people, and breaking things down into smaller ideas to help explain the bigger picture.”
“I thought if I was going to spend the rest of my life explaining science to people, I might as well get paid to do it,” he added.
Yaussy received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Hiram College, a master’s degree in ecology from Kent State University, and a master’s degree in education from John Carroll University. He said he was going to use the $25,000 to pay off his and his wife’s student loans, and then with what remains, they’ll take a trip to someplace fun.
In attendance to present the award was State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria and National Institute for Excellence in Teaching Chief Executive Officer Dr. Candice McQueen. Yaussy was presented the award on National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) day Nov. 8.
“I can think of no better way to celebrate National STEM Day than to honor exceptional science teachers like Nathan Yaussy,” McQueen said when presenting the award on behalf of the Milken Family Foundation. “Nathan makes learning tangible and exciting, both in and out of the classroom. With every lesson, students develop critical skills to think deeply and make the world a better place. As part of the National Milken Educator Network of excellence, Nathan will have a platform to broaden his impact and influence.”
According to the press release, the goal of the Milken Educator Awards is to celebrate, activate, and elevate the American teaching profession to the point of inspiring young capable educators. The recipients, while still early to mid-career, are heralded for their accomplishments and for the attainment of future achievements given the resources of the award.
“I couldn’t be prouder to team up with the Milken Family Foundation to honor Nathan Yaussy and to recognize the incredible difference he is making in the lives of his students,” DeMaria said the day of the presentation. “It’s obvious that his enthusiasm, commitment, and compassion are contagious among the students and staff at Fairport Harding.”
According to the press release, for more than three decades, the foundation has devoted over $140 million in funding to the awards, and $70 million to individual awards of more than 2,800 recipients and professional learning opportunities through networking with leading education stakeholders.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.