Tuesday, July 16, 2024
KM Elementary School teacher has been named the most recent recipient of the STEM Forward Outstanding Educator Award.

KM teacher receives STEM educator award

A Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School teacher has nabbed a significant award called the STEM Forward Outstanding Educator Award.

Jessica Marquardt secured the award during a year when “area educators are wondering if they are doing enough or are good enough at supporting our youth to receive the education they deserve,” according to a press release about the Outstanding Educator Award winner.

The award celebrates educators from southeast Minnesota who foster high K-12 student achievement, exhibit leadership and support for continuous improvement, promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, and demonstrate collaboration among K-12 schools, businesses and higher education.

“It really is an honor and we couldn’t be more proud of her,” said KM Superintendent Mark Matuska. “It’s a tribute to the preparation Jessica (Marquardt) does in the classroom and for everyone in the district that makes sure we’re performing well in the classroom.”

Marquardt is in her tenth year of teaching at KM. This year she’s teaching third and fourth graders whose families have opted for the school district’s flex learning option. While she’s teaching online this year, in the past she was in the classroom.

Her receipt of the award was announced during a virtual staff meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 15. “I was very surprised because I didn’t know I’d been nominated,” she said.

“I was very honored,” Marquardt went on, “that the people who nominated me from our district recognized the things I’d been doing with kids and thought it was worth spending time on the nomination. Winning it is even more of an honor.”

Marquardt has stood out from the educator pack in a few ways in recent years, said KM Director of Teaching and Learning Kelly Braun, who nominated her, and Ariana Wright, KM Elementary School Principal. Marquardt’s chief asset is her versatility.

“This is pretty big,” Braun said of the Outstanding Educator Award. “They choose one teacher out of the entire southeast Minnesota area. It’s tight. We’ve applied before and haven’t gotten it. It’s just one of those things that is so special.”

Eight people were nominated for the award that Marquardt won, Braun said.

Among Marquardt’s notable achievements in recent years have been expanding the STEM library at KM Elementary School and having first grade students brainstorm how to build a school playground. Students collaborated together, and pitched their ideas to Wright for how the playground should be designed.

When asked if students were a bit young to design a playground, Marquardt responded, “They’re not. The elementary grades are so fun for STEM because they have this uninhibited creativity and willingness to take risks and try and explore. For me it’s a really fun time to be teaching them STEM. It’s not the big scientific terms kids get in middle and high school science courses. It’s a lot of explanation and problem solving so when they get to higher-level science courses they aren’t afraid to try and make mistakes as they go along. I love our elementary age students because they are always willing to try and to go for it.”


As for the STEM-based library Marquardt has helped build, the goal has been to add more texts and also materials such as building supplies like blocks and Legos. “It really brings things full circle for kids,” she said. “We are trying to bring in things that are more hands on for kids. The library is really growing.”

Braun said she nominated Marquardt for the award because she’s shown students that STEM activities are all around them. They don’t necessarily need fancy gadgets or a robot to participate in STEM goings on. “It’s in your backyard, it’s in your kitchen,” Braun said. “It doesn’t take expensive materials.”

Wright said Marquardt is a gifted teacher, taking whatever challenge is presented to her and running with it. She’s a quick thinker and innovative “and that allowed her to meet students and families where they are at,” Wright said. “She showed them things they had around them to be able to continue to learn and stretch.”

“She really does seek to learn and grow with new resources,” Braun said. “She really innovated and showed a tremendous amount of leadership in this unique year.”

Marquardt and fellow southeast Minnesota nominee educators will be celebrated on January 20 during the STEM Forward Outstanding Educator Awards presented virtually. This year’s theme is “Persevering Through Resilience.”

“No matter what their background, no matter what traits they carry, Jessica (Marquardt) shows students that everybody can be a scientist,” Braun said. “She has a heart for students and that’s very important to her.”

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