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Oak Harbor teacher receives national award

Teacher Nicola Wethall stands in front of the Wall of Fame at Oak Harbor High School.  She recently received the “Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching”. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Teacher Nicola Wethall stands in front of the Wall of Fame at Oak Harbor High School. She recently received the “Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching”.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

An Oak Harbor High School teacher has been invited to visit Washington, D.C., this winter to be honored for her outstanding teaching methods in mathematics.

Earlier this month, Nicola Wethall, Oak Harbor’s AP statistics and advanced algebra prep teacher, received the “Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching,” which is deemed the highest honor that can be given to math and science teachers.

“We are very pleased that Nicola is being recognized this way,” Superintendent Rick Shulte said at a school board meeting earlier this week.

Though she was nominated for the award last June, Wethall wasn’t told she won until a few weeks ago and was thrilled when she got the good news.

She sent an e-mail to her boyfriend and neighboring teachers exclaiming something along the lines of, “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! I won! I won!” she said.

Wethall said she’s known she wanted to be a teacher since she was in grade school, but always thought she’d like to be an elementary school teacher and help children learn a variety of subjects. However, when she got to college and finished her last required math course, something changed.

“After my first calculus class, my college counselor told me I was done with math, and I thought that just sounded ridiculous,” she said.

Wethall graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1996 and spent time teaching in Illinois and Hawaii before moving to Washington.

The presidential award is given annually to math and science teachers across the nation. This year there were 103 recipients. After a preliminary selection process at the state level, the winners were chosen by a panel of distinguished educators and expert mathematicians and scientists.

Each winner will receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and an all expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a reward ceremony and other celebratory activities.

Wethall was nominated for the award by Dick Sanders, a former Oak Harbor math coach who believed Wethall showed great flexibility in her work as a teacher.

Oak Harbor principal Dwight Lundstrom said one of Wethall’s greatest strength is her ability to get students to understand the problems they’re facing.

“She doesn’t ever give them answers,” Lundstrom said. “She asks them questions so they can lead themselves to answers. She truly cares abut them and their learning, and she works tirelessly to reach her goals.”

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