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Local teacher climbs to top of the class

Vicksburg Intermediate science lab instructor Tammy Burris’ hands are reflected in a mirror above her desk so that students in the science lab can see the example being drawn from all corners of the room. Burris recently received the National Science Foundation 2000 Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/02/01] A Vicksburg Intermediate teacher is one of four in the state who next week will receive the nation’s highest honor for elementary and secondary math and science teachers.

Tammy Burris, science lab instructor at Vicksburg Intermediate, will travel to Washington, D.C., to pick up the 2000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, an award sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

“I was very excited,” said Burris, 31, one of 12 Mississippi teachers to receive the NSF State Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics and Science last year. “I couldn’t believe I had won.”

To be considered for the program, Burris completed an application process that required her to submit to the NSF a resume, a 10-day lesson plan and letters of support from supervisors, colleagues and parents.

The foundation is an independent agency of the U.S. government that invests more than $3.3 billion per year in nearly 20,000 research and education projects to promote science and engineering. One of its facets, the PAEMST Program, established in 1983 by President Reagan, is open to public, private and parochial teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade with at least five years of experience.

Three finalists are chosen each year from four categories elementary science, elementary math, secondary science and secondary math. Recognition is at the state or jurisdictional level.

Those 12 teachers receive the NSF State Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics and Science. A national committee chooses one teacher in each of the four categories from each state or jurisdiction to be recognized at the national level.

“You wouldn’t believe how happy I am,” said Carlene Wallace, Burris’s mother. “I’m so proud of her. Tammy never stops; she’s always trying to better herself.”

Burris, a Vicksburg native, said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Mississippi State University and a master’s degree in elementary education from Mississippi College.

She taught fourth grade for eight years at Warrenton Elementary and has supervised the science lab at Vicksburg Intermediate for the last two years. Burris said about 700 fifth- and sixth-graders come into her classroom each week “ready to do anything.”

“She makes science come alive for the students with her hands-on activities and enthusiasm for the subject,” said Frances Gaddis, assistant principal at Vicksburg Intermediate. “She is a prime example of the quality teachers at Vicksburg Intermediate and in the district.”

Burris will receive a $7,500 grant for Vicksburg Intermediate from the foundation to be used at her discretion. She plans to buy supplies for the science lab.

“We need microscopes,” Burris said as she looked around her classroom. “We need so many things in the lab.”

Burris also will receive an all-expense-paid trip for her and a guest to Washington next week for PAEMST Recognition Week. Her husband, Johnny Burris, will go with her, and their two children, 7-year-old Lindsey and 3-year-old John Austin, will stay here.

“He’s never flown before, so it should be very interesting,” Burris said.