When Weed High School graduate Wendy Lemos Shelden decided to become a teacher, she never dreamed that it would lead all the way to the White House, but that’s just what happened.
Shelden will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching in ceremonies at the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Jan. 4, 2010.
The Presidential Award is given each year to the best science and math teachers from across the country. Shelden, a fourth-grade teacher in Florida, was notified by the White House that she had been selected to receive the honor, the highest honor a teacher can receive.
“There is no higher calling than furthering the educational advancement of our nation’s young people and encouraging and inspiring our next generation of leaders,” President Barack Obama said in the official press release announcing Shelden’s award. “These awards represent a heartfelt salute of appreciation to a remarkable group of individuals who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others and, in doing so, have helped us all.”
The road to receiving the Presidential Award was a long one, according to Shelden. She was initially nominated by her school district in December of 2007. As part of the nomination package, she was required to submit two 30-minute videos of her classroom teaching, plus a 25-page portfolio documenting her teaching philosophy, classroom practices and accomplishments as a teacher. From that point, she was chosen as a Florida finalist and her package was sent on to a national committee made up of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators.
“The package had to be completed by the end of March 2008,” Shelden explained. “I didn’t receive notification that I?had been selected as a Presidential Awardee until July 2009 – that’s nearly 15 months of waiting!”
The wait was definitely worth it, according to Shelden. Along with an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a week of recognition events, Shelden received $10,000.
“The money is wonderful,” Shelden said, “but I’m more excited about the Recognition Week events. I?never dreamed I would one day be honored at a White House ceremony.”
Shelden, who teaches in Viera, Fla. (near Kennedy Space Center), is the daughter of Neil and Carol Lemos of Edgewood and wife of Yreka native Bill Shelden. She has been a teacher for nine years, and she attributes her success in teaching science and math to her own education at Butteville Elementary School in Edgewood and “wonderful” mentor teachers at Weed High School.
“Butteville was such a small school, so the teachers had to be creative,” Wendy said. “I remember one time when a state law changed and the school needed to build a new outdoor shelter for the garbage cans. The principal gave the project to us eighth graders – we designed a new shelter, got it approved, then actually built it. We learned more math and science in that one project than we learned in a year’s worth of workbook pages. It taught me that hands-on is the best way to learn.”
Wendy singled out science teacher John Sjoblom for showing her the possibilities in science.
“I truly hated science until I was in Mr. Sjoblom’s class,” she said.  “He did experiments that made me sit up and think, ‘Whoa, how did he do that?’”
Other teachers, especially Peggy Soletti and MaryJane DeRoss, encouraged her to follow her dreams.
“The message I kept hearing from the teachers was, ‘You can be whatever you want to be,’” Wendy said. “I think I took that to the extreme with this award!
“It’s quite an accomplishment for a girl from the tiny town of Edgewood to make it all the way to the White House ... even if it’s just for one day.”