‘I’m still sort of surprised’: Mahar science teacher wins Excellence in Teaching Award

  • Allison Hartshorn, a science teacher at Ralph C. Mahar School in Orange, has won a 2022 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2022 4:17:06 PM
Modified: 3/10/2022 4:16:33 PM

ORANGE — Allison Hartshorn’s students were conducting a simulation of the Earth’s structure last week when they noticed a bunch of people entering the classroom with flowers and a balloon.

It was then that Superintendent Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski announced Hartshorn had been selected as Ralph C. Mahar Regional School’s 2022 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award winner, news the middle school science teacher said she was not expecting.

“That’s an understatement. I’m still sort of surprised. I walked in the next day and … ‘Oh, the balloon and flowers are still there. So, it’s real,’” she said. “I was very confused at first. I wasn’t really sure why flowers were coming to my room, and balloons, and everybody. And then I was just so overwhelmed with shock and surprise, and then incredibly grateful afterward, once I had time to realize what was happening.”

The Excellence in Teaching Awards program is made possible by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in partnership with the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation. As such, the award is often referred to as the Grinspoon Award.

Mahar Principal Scott Hemlin said he and Barbara Schulze, coordinator of the science department, nominated Hartshorn for the award.

“I have an opportunity to go through all the classrooms frequently,” Hemlin said, “and … it’s her passion for teaching, her creativity, really her desire to create an atmosphere with the kids that is fun and engaging. It’s like everything that … you would wish your own child would experience in a classroom, she has right there.”

“You’d want your child in her room,” Teahan-Zielinski added.

Before they went into administrative work, Teahan-Zielinski and Hemlin were science educators like Hartshorn.

“She’s really a firm believer in learning science by doing science, so the kids are always actively engaged and, because they’re actively engaged, being kids and adolescents, it’s less opportunity for off-task behaviors,” Hemlin said. “She creates a very positive classroom atmosphere and she really does serve as a model for other teachers.”

Hartshorn has worked at Mahar for 15 years. She has also been a member of the school’s Massachusetts Personalized Learning (MAPLE) team and is a proponent of personalized learning.

Hartshorn and all other 2022 winners from school districts across Western Massachusetts will be honored at a banquet at the Log Cabin in Holyoke on May 4. The program is expected to feature a celebratory awards presentation honoring the winners, who will each receive an engraved plaque and a $250 check, along with tuition incentives and scholarships offered by seven colleges and universities: Elms College, Bay Path University, Mount Holyoke College, Springfield College, Western New England University, Westfield State University, and the University of Massachusetts.

Winners also receive a WGBY membership and access to thousands of digital education resources, in addition to three-month memberships at the Springfield Jewish Community Center and one of the six regional YMCAs. They are also invited to apply for the selective Classroom Innovator Prize of $250. Up to 30 prizes will be awarded.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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