Dr. Erin Lark is one of five state-level finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Dr. Lark is in her second year of teaching environmental and life sciences at Vancouver iTech Preparatory. She was the only Southwest Washington educator selected as a 2020 state finalist.

“Dr. Lark is a dedicated educator who works tirelessly to provide authentic learning opportunities for her students,” said iTech Principal Darby Meade. “She provides mindfulness breaks, different methods of journaling and community circles. She opens up the world by connecting her students to their peers around the state, connecting them with STEM professionals and providing authentic applications of their work. The experience she gives students breeds a curiosity, a love of science that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

Dr. Lark explores her own professional curiosities in the “Teachers in the Hall” podcast that she hosts with fellow iTech teacher and award-winning history teacher John Zingale. “A lot of our talking and thinking about what we’re doing in our classrooms, what we saw in education outside of our classroom—whether that is in our district, in our state, across the country, across the globe—spilled out into the hallway and required time outside of formal structures,” Dr. Lark explained. Those conversations evolved into the podcast, which blends discussion of teaching with topical subjects and humor. The result is a kind of professional development experience with conversations that will appeal to both educators and those who work in other fields.

Similarly, Dr. Lark empowers her students to propel their learning. “Having students have an opportunity to control and drive the learning is essential,” she said.

“They always say if it doesn’t say you can’t, then you can,” she added. “So I try to keep that in mind when I’m designing instructional opportunities. If I don’t need to control it, then that means you can choose, and allowing students to personalize it in that way means more than just ‘here are your basic choices.'”

Dr. Lark now is in the running for the national award. Recipients will be announced in the spring.

Dr. Erin Lark