Meet the Bellingham teacher who is a finalist for a prestigious national science award

A Bellingham middle school teacher is among the state finalists for a prestigious national science teaching award, the state Office of Public Instruction announced Wednesday.

Jenna Samora, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math and science at Fairhaven Middle School, is one of four teachers in Washington state who are finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. It is the nation’s highest honor for primary and secondary school teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science.

Finalists are selected by a statewide committee, the OSPI said in a statement. Congress created the award in 1983, and there can be as many as 108 winners annually.

National winners will be announced by the National Science Foundation and the White House. They will travel to Washington, D.C., for recognition events and professional learning. In addition, they will receive a certificate signed by the president of the United States, and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.

Samora, who is from Eatonville, studied biology and played soccer at Northern Arizona University, where she was a Big Sky All-Academic selection from 2009-2011. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in Spanish and chemistry and a master’s degree in science teaching from Northern Arizona, district spokeswoman Dana Smith told The Bellingham Herald.

She’s been with Bellingham Public Schools for seven years, and previously taught for three years at Sinagua Middle School in the Flagstaff (Ariz.) Unified School District, Smith said in an email.

“My mom was an amazing role model who was a biologist for the Mount Rainier National Park. I love science, but quickly discovered I disliked writing research papers. At this time I was coaching soccer and realized I really enjoyed teaching. This led me to my first education class in college during my junior year,” Samora told OSPI in an interview posted at the online publisher Medium.

“I taught at an outdoor education class and found my love for experiential, hands-on learning. My first teaching job was in an engineering and science position where I had the privilege to create a STEM curriculum that connected our science concepts in our engineering class with an emphasis on hands-on learning,” Samora said.