DRAPER — Dr. Christine Celestino, director of the Juan Diego Catholic High School’s Academy of Sciences, has been named the "Outstanding Biology Teacher of the Year" for the State of Utah by the National Association of Biology Teachers.
"This couldn’t have happened to a better teacher," said Marianne Rozsahegyi, Juan Diego Catholic High School director of Faculty Development, who wrote one of the letters of recommendation for the award.
In her letter of recommendation, Rozsahegyi wrote that, while observing Celestino’s classes, she was impressed "not only with the scope of knowledge that Christine possesses when answering the variety of curious questions from students, but also at the way students were so totally engaged in their learning. This can only happen when you have a very disciplined and positive role model as the teacher."
Celestino was instrumental in building the school’s Academy of Sciences, said Molly Gorman Dumas, JDCHS’ director of Institutional Advancement/Public Information.
The academy offers intensive programs in science, technology, engineering and math. Funded in part by the ALSAM Foundation, it encourages more students to consider these career fields – particularly girls and minorities. The academy graduated its first class during the 2010-11 school year; all four of its graduates participated in summer science internships with the University of Utah College of Pharmacy – a partnership created by Dr. Celestino.
This past summer, six Juan Diego students interned with the university after first taking a lab with Celestino. One student co-authored a poster that was presented at the university’s Molecular Biology and Biological Chemistry Student Retreat; the poster also will be at the Salt Lake City Supercomputing Conference in November, Dumas said.
Of the 18 students who participated in one of the first three summer science internships, all went on to attend a college or university on an academic scholarship, Dumas said. Eight are majoring in science/medicine, two in engineering and one in computer science, and 10 of the 11 said the internship through JDCHS’ Academy of Sciences helped direct them into science fields, Dumas added.
Celestino also helped develop an intern partnership with Intermountain Healthcare last spring and encouraged other teachers to build an engineering track for the Academy of Sciences, Dumas said. In addition, she and a former faculty member developed a summer science camp for grades 6-9, Dumas said.
Students have found their own way to praise Celestino: She is consistently nominated for the Christ the Teacher Award, Dumas said.
Celestino, who also is the Pre-Med Club’s advisor, "is supportive beyond her own department," Rozsahegyi wrote in her nomination letter. For example, Celestino encouraged her homeroom to donate more than 850 books to a drive that the JDCHS Human Rights International Club sponsored, and she helped formulate a number of initiatives for the school’s Academic Council, Rozsahegyi wrote.
Citing one example in which Celestino helped a particular student, Rozsahegyi noted that she "educates the whole student - not just their brains."
Celestino was nominated for the award by Dr. Louisa Stark, director of the University of Utah’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, and the Genetic Science Learning Center.
Celestino "cares about each student personally and cares about their learning and their success both in class and overall," Stark said, noting that Celestino plans inquiry-based lessons and lab activities at least once a week, which take more time but help students learn better.
In addition, Celestino has been chosen several times to participate in the Genetic Science Learning Center workshops that develop curriculum for a website that is used by middle and high school students and undergraduates, as well as teachers and the public; it has had more than 15 million visits from 189 countries, Stark said.
"Christine is very creative in developing ideas for curriculum materials that will engage students in learning new content," Stark said. "She works collaboratively with other teachers and she has really contributed to our success."