Maria Swartzentruber ’11, MA ’16 wins Virginia math educator of the year award

Maria Swartzentruber, a fifth-grade teacher at Linville-Edom Elementary School, will receive the 2017 William C. Lowry Mathematics Educator of the Year Award for the elementary school level March 10 at James Madison University. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Maria Swartzentruber, a fifth-grade teacher at Linville-Edom Elementary School, has made it her mission to get students excited about math. [Swartzentruber graduated in 2011 with a degree in education and completed her master’s degree in education in 2016.]

Since she began working at Linville-Edom six years ago, the Harrisonburg resident has created various activities for her students.

In one exercise, which she calls “number talks,” students are given a problem they must solve in their head before discussing their problem-solving strategies with their classmates.

“They get so excited and try to come up with the different ways to solve it,” the 27-year-old said. “They just like to rise to the challenge.”

Next month, Swartzentruber’s dedication to teaching will be recognized at the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference.

She will receive the 2017 William C. Lowry Mathematics Educator of the Year Award for the elementary school level at the March 10 event, which will take place at James Madison University.

Rockingham County Public Schools announced the accomplishment on Wednesday, a couple of weeks after Swartzentruber heard the news.

“I had tears in my eyes because it’s such an honor. I work with the best colleagues. I feel very grateful,” she said. “I feel very humble just because I know there are so many talented teachers out there.”

Jenny Gibson, RCPS’ coordinator of math, nominated Swartzentruber for the award in November.

“She’s created a really safe environment where students are thinking and reasoning through any problem-solving activities she gives them,” Gibson said.

Swartzentruber doesn’t just offer activities that engage students, Gibson said. She also helps students work through any difficulties they face and tailors her lessons around what they learn each day.

Her teaching style has been well-received.

“It’s just very evident when you walk in the classroom that her students want to be there,” Gibson said.

The feeling is mutual.

“They make me laugh every day,” Swartzentruber said. “I wake up and I’m excited every day to go to work and see my students and see those light bulb moments.”

Article re-printed with permission from the Feb. 21, 2017 Daily News-Record.