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Teacher up for national award

An Oak Harbor teacher is one of three state finalists for an award that’s considered the highest honor in the nation for math and science teachers.

Math teacher Nicola Wethall was nominated for the “Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.” Wethall, who teaches everything from pre-Algebra to AP statistics at Oak Harbor High School, was the only math teacher to be nominated by Washington state this year.

“I’m very excited for her,” Principal Dwight Lundstrom said. “She’s doing a lot of things to become the best teacher she can be.”

Wethall is a “national board certified teacher” who has served on math committees for Oak Harbor and for state-wide curriculum.

She earned her degree at Northern Illinois University in 1996 and has taught in Oak Harbor for five years, after working in Illinois, Hawaii and Bellingham.

According to a release by the state superintendent’s office, “her commitment to cooperative learning is evident in her classroom and her relationships with her colleagues.”

During frequent group work, Wethall encourages her students to use an inquiry-based approach with her and with each other.

“I try to make it student-centered and I do that by asking them a lot of questions about what they know and how they know it,” Wethall said. “The goal is not just to get the answer right but to improve processing.”

Outside of the classroom, she advises the National Honor Society and the after-school peer tutoring program.

“She’s aware of the standards her students have to meet and she has a nurturing way of teaching mathematics. A lot of kids have anxiety about math but she gets them to become comfortable,” Lundstrom said.

The nominees were selected in June by a statewide selection committee comprised of content area experts and award-winning teachers. Wethall was nominated by former Oak Harbor math coach Dick Sander.

The awards are given annually to teachers from each of the 50 states. To be considered for the award, teachers must be nominated and complete a comprehensive application.

State level finalists are also recognized by regional and state math and science associations and will be invited to several events for Washington’s Exceptional Educators over the next year.

The national program will announce the winners this spring.

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