Sullivan Honors Four Educators as Alaskans of the Week

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) yesterday recognized Joshua Hall and Jennifer Childress, teachers at Dimond High School in Anchorage, Dawn Wilcox, a teacher at Campbell Elementary in Anchorage, and Angie Wright, a teacher at Auke Bay Elementary in Juneau, on the floor of the Senate. The four Alaska educators were among 215 teachers across the country to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, announced by the White House in October. This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or computer science teaching. Senator Sullivan recognized Hall, Childress, Wilcox, and Wright as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”


Tribute to Joshua Hall, Jennifer Childress, Dawn Wilcox, and Angie Wright

Mr. President, it is one of my favorite times during the week, when I get to come to the Senate floor—I know it is the pages’ favorite time—to talk a little bit about Alaska and talk about my State and present what we weekly call the ‘‘Alaskan of the Week.’’ It is the opportunity to talk about someone in the community who has done something great for their community, for the State, maybe for America, and I would like to recognize this great variety of wonderful Alaskans, great Americans, whom we have in my State and talk about them. 

By the way, I always like to give a little update on what is going on in Alaska and to talk to people who are in the Gallery and who are watching on TV and encourage them—now is the time to plan your next trip to Alaska if you are going to come next summer. But, also, you should know that winter, which is coming—it has pretty much come to Alaska—is a great time to visit too. It is a winter wonderland. You can ski, snowboard, and at end of the day, sit back and drink something warm and watch the northern lights dance in the sky. You can’t do that in many States in our great Nation. So come on up for the trip of a lifetime. We want you to come whether it is summer, winter, fall, spring; it doesn’t matter. You will not be disappointed if you come visit us in the great State of Alaska.  

I am going to break the rules a little bit on the Alaskan of the Week because I usually recognize one, but today I am going to recognize four extraordinary Alaskans. They are four teachers in my State who are the recent recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Joshua Hall is a math teacher at Dimond High School in Anchorage and the chair of the math program there. Jennifer Childress is also a teacher at Dimond, teaching science and engineering courses. She currently teaches 11th and 12th grade physics and Advanced Placement physics. Dawn Wilcox teaches second grade at Campbell Elementary School in Anchorage, and Angie Wright teaches 4th and 5th grade math at Auke Bay Elementary in Juneau, AK. We are very, very proud of them. 

This is a great achievement for all four of these wonderful teachers. This award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government specifically for K–12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science teaching—something we need more of, not just in Alaska but in America. And we need great teachers who can do this, and that is what this award recognizes. 

As any State has—Alaska, North Dakota—we have thousands of teachers in my State who do such great work day in and day out to make sure our next generation is not only educated on the facts but who also understand, in the words of the great leader Nelson Mandela, ‘‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’’ Nelson Mandela said that. These four teachers have been working hard every day for years so that their students will go out and do just that—change the world; make Alaska, America, the world a better place. They, as well as our teachers all across the country, all across Alaska, certainly have one of the most important and most difficult jobs, so we salute all of them, but I want to salute these four teachers in a little bit more detail. 


They have chosen not only to master these science, engineering, physics subjects, but to teach it to the next generation. Despite a slight improvement in the STEM skills of Americans over the last 20 years, it is widely recognized that the United States is still being outpaced by countries all over the world in these critical subject matters. Now, more than ever, our country desperately needs skilled Americans, skilled professionals, who can innovate for our Nation, who can improve our Nation’s infrastructure, advance our healthcare system, build the tools that defend our country, and ensure our Nation’s prosperity and a strong economy. We need STEM education. 

There is so much to say about all four of these teachers, but let me give you a brief example of how they are teaching the youth of Alaska in these critical areas. Mr. Hall is a math teacher at Dimond High School who, by the way, has former students and fans in my office. This is a bit of a theme. A lot of these teachers have taught a lot of my staff right now, including Jesse here. Mr. Hall has been an educator for more than 20 years. He has been teaching math for the past 14 years at Dimond High, and as the department chair, he decided that the school needed an event where math students could show and take pride in the skills they are learning. He worked with another math teacher to design and organize a schoolwide math competition. They just had their fourth annual event, and 175 students participated. The audience cheered; students were excited. It was a huge deal. Studying math is really cool. It is great. Gosh, there were 175 students. So that is Mr. Hall.

Mrs. Childress is also at Dimond High and also has a big fan base in my office of former students, including Jesse, I believe. She has taught for over 20 years, 14 of which have been teaching science and engineering courses at Dimond. She helped found the Engineering Academy at Dimond, and she and another teacher developed and ran a program called Smart Girls Rock! Smart Girls Rock! exposes freshman and sophomore girls to female engineers from Anchorage and encourages young women to pursue STEM careers. As a father of three daughters, I know just how important it is to do that. 

Here is a fun fact: Mrs. Childress and Mr. Hall have been married for 23 years, which makes this award all the more special for both of them. I would call them a true power couple in Alaska STEM education.

Miss Wilcox, a teacher from Campbell Elementary, has had a 20-year career and has been teaching at Campbell for the past 3 years. Working with her colleagues, she created a STEM school at Campbell—the first STEM elementary school in Anchorage. Again, these are innovators. You can tell these teachers are innovators. Also, as a project for the Iditarod Teacher in Every Classroom, which is a science program based on our famous sled dog race, the Iditarod, she worked with another colleague to get their classroom to adopt and improve a local park. Miss Wilcox’s second graders appeared before the school board, the community council, and the parks commission to advocate for their idea. So not only are they learning STEM, but they are learning civics. For their efforts, they were awarded a $20,000 Anchorage Parks Foundation matching grant, and the park now has outdoor learning labs, paths, signs, and is a joy to visit. So all of you visitors who are going to come to Alaska have to make sure you check out this great new innovation in our parks. 

Finally, let me talk about Ms. Wright. Ms. Wright has been an educator for over 16 years. She began her career teaching in rural Alaska, which I view as the heart and soul of our State. For the last 7 years she taught at Auke Bay in Juneau, where she was born and raised. She is passionate about incorporating place-based knowledge into the classroom. She says that every year her students participate in placebased learning. They pick berries, a traditional part of the Alaska Native subsistence lifestyle, in order to gather the data and more detailed information about our incredible environments throughout the State. ‘‘Students in my classroom learn a lot of Alaskan Native languages and participate in a Tlingit dance group, performing around southeast Alaska.’’

She also takes her fourth and fifth grade students on a field trip to the muskeg ecosystem to learn how animals adapt to survive in different environments. ‘‘Teaching in Alaska is a gift and taking advantage of it is something I value very much,’’ Ms. Wright said. It was, in fact, Mr. President, a sentiment expressed by all four of these teachers who won this very prestigious award. Henry Adams once wrote, ‘‘A teacher affects eternity; he or she can never tell where their influence actually stops.’’ Think about that. A teacher impacts eternity. The influence that these teachers have over the lives of so many young Alaskans will really never stop.

As I mentioned, many staff members of my office are direct recipients of this influence, which will continue help to grow the next generation of leaders, of workers, of thinkers, of doers, and I am sure the next generation of teachers, through their example. I see students who, in turn, will continue to make our State and our country the great places that they are. We cannot thank these teachers enough for what they have done.

So I want to congratulate Mr. Hall, Ms. Childress, Ms. Wilcox, and Ms. Wright for all they have done for this great award, for all they continue to do, for your dedication to your profession, for your passion for math and science, and for your commitment to Alaska’s next generation. And, of course, I want to congratulate them on being this week’s Alaskans of the Week. Mr. President, I yield the floor.