The Dart Minds Inspired Award for Excellence in Teaching STEM was held on May 2 at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands to recognise outstanding educators in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively known as STEM.

Dart Education Programmes Senior Manager Glenda McTaggart says the Award for Excellence in Teaching STEM is Dart’s way of celebrating educators who have made a significant, positive difference in their students’ lives through STEM teaching.

“It recognises superior teaching, innovative instructional practice, high educational standards, creation of productive learning environments, and the ability to inspire and motivate students,” she says.

The winning teachers were nominated by their peers and evaluated through a blind selection process. The selection panel consisted of a representative from the Dart Scholar Selection Committee, a Ph.D. level industry professional in a STEM field, a member of the US National Science Teachers Association and retired principals from Cayman and overseas.

In the elementary school category, Lune Vermeire of Island Montessori was chosen as the award recipient for her ability to make STEM learning fun and engaging for young students, linking STEM with art and hands-on activities. A former marine biologist, Vermeire helped set up The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Ambassador of the Environment programme and continues to make conservation a central pillar of her teaching style.

“It is my vision that my passion for STEM subjects is passed on to all our children at Island Montessori and across Cayman,” Vermeire says. “They are our future leaders and protectors of the natural environment, seeing how everything is connected, on this beautiful island and around the world.”

For his efforts to promote STEM participation both inside and outside the classroom, St. Ignatius Catholic School teacher Von Ryan Abrantes was awarded the High School Award. During his four year tenure, Abrantes’ efforts have seen enrollment in A-level physics increase from three to thirteen students. Thanks to his passion for STEM, St Ignatius entered an impressive eight teams in this year’s Minds Inspired SeaPerch Challenge, and the STEM Club he started has become one of the most popular in the school.

As recipients of the 2019 Excellence in Teaching STEM awards, Abrantes and Vermeire will attend a STEM educators conference compliments of Minds Inspired and receive a cash award of $1,000. The award also included a $3,000 grant for each school to enhance its STEM educational resources.

Abrantes says receiving the award will allow him to enhance the STEM programme at St. Ignatius and make additional opportunities available for students.

“I believe that teachers are at the forefront of nation building. As STEM educators, we have a special role in this mission, because we teach the importance of innovation, intellectual honesty, curiosity and critical thinking - values which the next generation would need, to come up with novel and sustainable ways to help a nation progress and make the world a better place,” he says. “It is an award not only for me at the present, but also a recognition of my teachers' work on me in the past, and a contribution to my students' future and the future of the Cayman Islands.”

Minds Inspired also awarded Merit Awards in the high school and elementary school categories.

Cayman International School teacher Krista Finch received the Elementary School Merit Award for her pioneering work with Destination Imagination, organising local tournaments and teams to represent the Cayman Islands at the US tournament for the past five years.

“I was honoured to just be nominated and am very pleased to have won the Elementary School Merit Award,” Finch says. “I look forward to participating in additional STEM activities that will help children learn to think like a scientist!”

Cayman International School teacher Jeff Szeryk received the High School Merit Award for his work in robotics, spending time outside of school hours to coach and mentor teams competing in the Minds Inspired SeaPerch Challenge earlier this year and the Minds Inspired ‘Rover Ruckus’ FIRST Technical Challenge which will be held from 4 to 8pm on May 11 at the Camana Bay Arts & Recreation Centre.

“The truth is that it is really about the students. They are the inspiration,” Szeryk says. “I learn more from them on a daily basis with their creativity in building things and solving problems that I could never fathom.”

Minds Inspired’s focus on STEM is grounded in the Dart family’s belief that these subjects are essential for success in and beyond the classroom. Dart Executive Vice President with responsibility for community development Pilar Bush says teachers are fundamental to inspiring and nurturing students’ passion for STEM learning.

“Teachers play a pivotal role in developing a passion for STEM subjects,” she says. “It matters to us that students are inspired and prepared, and we know that teachers are the epicenter of students’ learning. Excellence in teaching is critical to their engagement and willingness to pursue the often more challenging STEM subjects.”

Bush says she is anticipating even more nominations in 2020.

“The nomination process was competitive this year and we hope it is next year as well. We want more nominations and we want every eligible school in Cayman represented amongst them,” she says.