The William J. Sacco Critical Thinking Foundation presented 21 Harford County mathematics students and teachers with awards on March 10.
More than 175 students, teachers and foundation sponsors walked through the doors of Liberatore's in Bel Air to gather for the second William J. Sacco Awards Banquet. Dressed to the nines, the anxious scholars awaited the results.
The 2013 set of scholarships included all 10 Harford County public schools and The John Carroll School — expanded from just C. Milton Wright and Bel Air high schools. At last year's event, Dr. John Kutcher, executive director of the foundation, stated that $30,000 was raised which in turn helped them to expand their scholarship program.
Executive board member Ron Dove, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., was first recognized by Bill Sacco for being an excellent student. Dove describes Sacco as "very special man," and it was his "passion for math teachers and students" that really helped Dove move from a crew person at McDonald's to a man of the law.
Another former protegee of Bill Sacco is Dr. John Kutcher, who wanted to honor the opportunities to develop software afforded to him by his former mentor. Nearly 10 years ago, he created a scholarship in Sacco's name. Then, after Mr. Sacco's passing in July 2011, he gathered a group of individuals deeply inspired by the passions of Bill Sacco and established the foundation with hopes of providing "annual scholarships to graduating high school seniors who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of applied mathematics and critical thinking," according to saccofoundation.org.
This year, the William J. Sacco Mathematics Educator Award was also introduced. This award honors "exceptional mentoring skills, creative teaching methods and success in incorporating real-world applications into the classroom."
Because of her endless devotion to mathematics and her students, Susan Taylor, AP statistics teacher at Bel Air High School, was named The 2013 William J. Sacco Mathematics Educator of the Year.
"I am thrilled to be honored and recognized. I know this is a really nice event to recognize teachers and students who love and share a passion for math," Taylor said.
Taylor is credited with bringing AP statistics to Bel Air High School. She believes that it is because of this push for a curriculum change that prompted her nomination.
"AP Stat is a great application of math learned. Students really only need Algebra II, so a lot of students can take it. It's more attainable than calculus for many," she said.
Though Taylor was ultimately deemed the "winner among winners," according to Kutcher, she stood among eight other teachers recognized for their hard work in the math department.
North Harford Algebra II, Integrated Geometry and German I teacher Wenke Porter was also recognized.
"I was surprised but grateful because I do work very hard with lesson plans and grading papers, and I'm happy someone recognizes that," Porter said.
The other math teachers recognized were Nicole Andriano from Aberdeen High School; Brett Parker from C. Milton Wright High School; Alyson Creighton from Fallston High School; Jeanne Donlick from Harford Technical High School; Deborah Mateer from Havre de Grace High School; Jean Willan from The John Carroll School, and Eric Smith from Patterson Mill High School.
Each mathematics teacher nominated by their department chair was given a $100 gift card to Target for help in the classroom, but the Educator of the Year was given $1,000 to spend however they'd like to improve their mathematics skills, teaching styles or supply closets.
Taylor, surprised yet beaming with pride, was easily able to identify the ways in which she plans to spend her new $1,000 grant.
"I'm going to use my award to take more classes. I'm always looking to learn more things or purchase some new books," Taylor said. "[My department] inspires me every day. We work together as a family and share ideas and working with them is really enjoyable."
After the teacher announcements and a brief intermission, Kutcher returned to the microphone to relieve the tangible anticipation among the students and their families.
Listed in the program was a detailed account of the soaring mathematics achievements of each student. It was hard for some parents to comprehend that their son or daughter had completed levels as high as Calculus III. Beaming with pride as great as that of her parents, Claire Zurkowski was named Student of the Year. An expression of shock came over the John Carroll senior's face as a round of applause erupted.
Zurkowski, who plans to study architecture in college, was awarded a $3,000 scholarship toward her first year at school. She was taken by such surprise that she "didn't even realize he said my name when he said it," she said. She said the banquet and recognition by the foundation "reinforce how important math is," and make her "appreciate math more." Zurkowski thanked her teachers, Jean Willan and Dr. Christopher Yeung, and her dad, Paul Zurkowski, for the support she has received throughout her high school career.
The William J. Sacco Award for Excellence in Applied Mathematics, which recognizes "mathematical excellence, advanced aptitude and the ability to apply the principles of critical thinking," was also presented to Micah Jaffe from Aberdeen High School; Rachel Walker from Bel Air High School; Paul Burke from C. Milton Wright High School; Marisa Russell from Edgewood High School; John O'Neill from Fallston High School; Nicolas Waite from North Harford High School; Adam Wachsman from Havre de Grace High School; Derien Scott from Joppatowne High School; Madison Varvaris from North Harford High School; and Glory Mgboji from Patterson Mill High School. All students will receive a $500 scholarship toward their first year of college.
The Mathematics Community Award — which recognizes leadership initiatives in the mathematics community — was presented to Emily Caron of Havre de Grace High School. Emily will receive a $750 scholarship to the school of her choice.