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Jamaica Teacher Wins Prestigious Award for Her 'Hands-On' Approach

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | December 15, 2015 8:00pm
 Shanaz Baksh teaches at the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College.
Shanaz Baksh teaches at the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College.
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Courtesy of Shanaz Baksh

QUEENS — Shanaz Baksh thinks she was simply meant to become an educator.

As if to prove the point, the 35-year-old teacher of AP Biology and Advanced Science Research at the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College in Jamaica just won the annual Sloan Award for Teaching Science and Mathematics.

"I’m very honored and humbled to be recognized," she said.

"My students are so proud of me," she said, adding that usually it's the other way round — she is proud of them. 

Baksh comes from a family of educators. Both of her parents, who came to the U.S. from Guyana, were teachers, and so is her sister, who teaches English.  

She grew up in Hollis and went to a number of local schools, including P.S. 95, I.S. 238 and Francis Lewis High School.

“I’m pretty much a Queens girl,” she said.

Baksh studied biology and secondary education at Queens College and got her Master's degree at Florida International University when she lived in the Sunshine State for a couple of years before returning to Queens. 

Baksh, who has two sons, aged 4 and 7, got her first teaching job 10 years ago at Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, a school with about 400 students that specializes in mathematics and science.

Her key to success, she said, is to “have a project-based approach.”

“I give students projects and it's more hands-on learning,” she said. “I’m just there as a facilitator.”

Baksh, who also teaches a freshman research class, said “the kids love doing projects.”

“They told me many times that they remember the information because they themselves had to find the answer and that way they are not just reading something or listening to something one time — they are actually in charge of their learning.”

About 100 teachers were nominated for this year's awards by students, parents, colleagues and principals.

To qualify, educators must have a minimum of five years experience teaching math or science in New York City schools and "must demonstrate excellence in teaching and in achieving results," according to a statement from the Fund for the City of New York, which manages the awards.

Earlier this month, a panel of scientists, mathematicians, and educators selected seven winners from around New York City.

“This year’s recipients ... are innovative in their approach to helping students navigate challenging coursework, achieving outstanding results and inspiring New York City’s youth to pursue careers in the STEM fields,” said Mary McCormick, president of the fund.

“These winners provide students at all levels with a foundation for success in the classroom, in college, and beyond. They serve as excellent role models for other teachers,” McCormick noted.

Each of the winners will receive a $5,000 cash prize in addition to $2,500 for their school to strengthen its math and science programs.

Baksh said that her students “are the best part of the job.”

“They are so much fun," she said. "It’s amazing when I see them go from 9th to 12th grade and to see them change.”

She always tells them that it’s not about competition, but rather about building skills that can prepare them for college, she said.

“Every time I see my students who win an award or get a scholarship, or get into the college of their choice, I'm so happy for them,” she said.

"It makes me want to keep doing what I do because their success is my success."