If anyone walked into Kristin Joivell’s kindergarten classroom at Juniata Valley Elementary School, they’d find things like an interactive science station that changes with the seasons, a surprise garden growing in a window, a hissing cockroach enclosure , taxidermy animals and skulls.
The space is indicative of how Joivell – who just completed his 23rd year at Juniata Valley – teaches his students: through hands-on and curious lessons, experiments and projects.
“I try to integrate science into the learning they do so that they have the chance to access the world around them through all this information”, said Joivell.
It is with this attitude in mind that Amanda Smith, director of K-12 engagement at Penn State University, nominated Joivell for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education for the year. school year 2019-2020.
“Kristin is a very engaging teacher who has taken advantage of many opportunities at Penn State to expand research experiences in her kindergarten classroom,” said Smith.
Joivell will go on to win the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Education for 2019-2020.
Before the victory, there was a lot of hard work
The White House and National Science Foundation immediately notify applicants, after which complete and submit additional media.
One of the requirements was to send an unedited video of him teaching a lesson, which could not be edited in any way, Joivell said.
She chose to record testing her students’ STEM problem-solving abilities, which involved them rescuing plastic teddy bears from an island using nothing but aluminum foil.
Students could use as much aluminum foil as they wanted to make a plan and test their ideas.
“No child plan was the same” said Joivell. “One group, they designed this aluminum bird that would melt, put bears in its mouth and then blow them away.”
After creating the video, nominees had to write 15 essays reflecting their personal experiences.
Although she was nominated during the 2019-2020 school year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not until March 2022 that the winners were announced. Working late one night, Joivell said she received an email letting her know she had won.
“I read it over and over again and immediately let my husband know I had won and then emailed my principal to let him know we had won as a school because it’s so exciting for this small rural school – graduating 40-60 kids a year – that someone from our school won the presidential award,” said Joivell.
A true lifelong learner
Joivell discovered his love of teaching as a senior at Mount Union High School after taking drawing classes every year as an elective, which allowed him to help out with undergraduate drawing classes. from high school.
“Doing this was so meaningful” said Joivell. “So that made me think maybe I wanted to be like a tech teacher or a drawing teacher.”
She decided to go to Millersville University for her undergraduate work and majored in general education.
After graduating, Joivell began her first year at Juniata Valley as a long-term substitute. The following year, the district received a grant that enabled it to provide phonemic awareness to students.
A permanent position with the district opened up with the retirement of a kindergarten teacher, and Joivell quickly applied. She’s been there ever since.
It was while Joivell was working as a phonemic awareness and ESL teacher that she discovered the school’s science club.
“After school, when I was packing my things for the next day, I would sometimes hear this herd of elephants passing by my little closet, and I would ask ‘what are you guys doing?'” said Joivell. “It was the science club.”
The science club was started by Paul Gregory, a now retired teacher, about 40 years ago.
She asked Gregory if she could help and started helping him. Now she runs it with another teacher.
Partnerships are growing
After years of informal partnership, about six or seven years ago Shaver’s Creek began to change its programming and wanted to develop a formal partnership with the Juniata Valley District.
Having met Joivell in 2018, Shaver’s Creek School Program Director Alexa Sarussi knew she was someone she wanted to work with more closely.
“Kristin’s enthusiasm for science and science education is infectious, and her drive for work is unparalleled.” said Sarussi. “Every time we meet to plan or work on something together, I leave inspired and energized.”
For the past four years, Sarussi has worked with Joivell and others in the district.
Joivell plays a vital role in this work, Sarussi said.
“As an ‘outsider’ to the district, I can’t stress enough how critical to the success of our partnership having Kristin’s insights into the inner workings of the school system and its environment has been,” said Sarussi.
Under Joivell, the science club went from only allowing fifth and sixth graders to allowing K-5. About 50 kids come to each science club night, Joivell said. In the spring, Joivell had the children keep nature journals, while in the fall they created nature collages.
Joivell is also responsible for the elementary school’s annual science fair, and the year after it closed, she asked students to send in videos of their projects, which she edited into a movie.
This school year’s science fair was a little different. Rather than letting the kids set up their projects, Joivell had three guests set up stations for the kids to visit. One had a robot golf, set up by district STEM coordinator Felipe Rimmer. Another station was set up by Sarussi for Shaver’s Creek and the third by Juniata College professor Kathy Jones and her students.
Having known Joivell for 18 years, Jones said bringing his students to the Joivell science fair gave them the opportunity “a wonderful experience working with many different children in one day at different age levels.”
“She’s very enthusiastic and has a lot of great ideas that she’s been able to bring to life.” said Jones. “The most important thing is that it inspires students’ enthusiasm for science.”
Joivell also hosts a monthly math meetup with high school teacher Paula Rodkey, where they work with high school students to create games that can teach math skills to kindergartners; is a member of the District STEM Improvement Committee and the Family Engagement Team, a collective of teachers and people from environmental centers who work to brainstorm ideas and complete projects to involve more families in the STEM learning.
Summer holidays are not breaks
Joivell doesn’t slow down during summer vacation. She served in Greenland to assist researchers doing fieldwork on arctic plants; Manitoba as Principal Investigator of Teach Earth; the Bahamas as an Earthwatch Fellow; Alaska as a teacher at sea; and South Dakota with Penn State helping a paleontologist dig for fossils and small mammal bones.
“I think that’s why I originally applied for these programs – so I could see what real scientific research is really like there because I’m not a scientist,” said Joivell.
With Teach Earth in Manitoba, she studied the ponds and the creatures in them.
“I thought what a great way to bring that back to the kids by starting a science club where they can go study the ponds,” said Joivell.
So, for about two months after school, she would transport 10 to 12 students to accessible ponds in the woods to study them. Then, using everything the students discovered, Joivell presented a showcase at a family science night.
According to the PAEMST website, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Education is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government specifically for K-12 STEM education.
Recipients receive a certificate signed by the president, paid travel to Washington, DC, and a $10,000 prize from the National Science Foundation.
“I think it’s just fantastic that she got this recognition,” said Jones, who was the 1998 PAEMST winner from Pennsylvania.
Her husband, Kevin Busko, who works in an applied research lab at Penn State, was there.
“He thinks it’s great, he’s so supportive of all my projects and I support his projects,” said Joivell. “He’s the perfect match for me, we really build and support each other.”
Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.
The Joivell file
Name: Kristin Joivell
Age: 46 years old
Residence: Piney Ridge, near Huntingdon, near Lake Raystown
Education: Mount Union High School 1993, Millersville University 1997, Penn State University 2014
Awards and Honors: Shippensburg University School Study Council Outstanding Teacher Award (2010), Pennsylvania School Study Council Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education (2017), Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching of Science (2019-20)