National STEM education program taps Anchorage physics teacher

A woman sitting at a desk and smiling
Jennifer Childress has taught physics at Dimond High School for 19 years. In August, she’ll begin her work as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. (Katie Anastas/Alaska Public Media)

An Anchorage physics teacher will spend a year in Washington, D.C., working on national education policy. Dimond High School teacher Jennifer Childress was one of fifteen teachers across the country chosen for the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship.

Teachers in the fellowship work with government agencies as they develop new STEM curriculum. Childress will work with the Department of Defense.

“They need people who can do science and math and technology, and so they want to make sure that students are getting a good, strong education and are being encouraged to go into those fields,” she said.

The fellows will also work to identify challenges within STEM education. One issue Childress hopes to work on is increasing representation of female scientists in physics.

“We’ve caught up a lot in the biology areas and health medicine, but we have not caught up in physics and in engineering,” she said.

Last year, Childress participated in NASA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program. She learned about infrared technology used to observe planets’ atmospheres. Then, she brought that knowledge and experience back to her physics class.

“They were much more into that curriculum because I’d had those experiences,” she said.

After 19 years at Dimond, Childress said leaving is bittersweet. As she worked on her application to the fellowship, which involved writing essays and getting letters of recommendation, her students said it reminded them of their college applications.

Childress wants other teachers to know they can apply for national programs, too. She said it’s important for students to see their teachers continue to learn and try new things.

“I think it sets a really good example for students that, as a person, I’m continuing to push myself to learn things and grow and have different experiences,” she said. “I also think it’s important to help students see that what they’re learning in the classroom stays relevant.”

Childress’ fellowship begins in August. She and her husband – Dimond High School math teacher Joshua Hall – aren’t sure if or when they’ll come back to Alaska. But she’s excited to live on the East Coast for the first time, especially in a city where she won’t need a car.

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