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North Hills Monthly

Northgate School District Teacher Earns Prestigious Carnegie Science Award

Apr 27, 2020 08:13PM ● By Erica Cebzanov

Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center recently named its Carnegie Science Awards program honorees. The 24th annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration on Sept. 17, presented by Eaton, will recognize these science and technology leaders for their achievements in 16 categories. 

Karen Klicker, Northgate School District fourth- and fifth-grade science and social studies teacher, will receive the Elementary Educator Award. Northgate’s administrative team nominated Klicker; past awardees and industry leaders selected the winners. 

“I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this recognition than Karen Klicker. She means so much more to our community than being a great teacher,” said Avalon Elementary School Principal Dr. Joseph J. Peacock Jr.

“Her incredible humility and perseverance are an inspiration to her students and colleagues alike,” he continued. “No matter the instance, Karen always puts her students, school and community first, as she watches them grow in the glow of the spotlight. It is wonderful to finally see her in the spotlight.”

The award has arrived at a serendipitous time, as Klicker, 65, will retire at the school year’s end, after 18 years with the district. In the early ‘80s, she taught at Avonworth School District for two years, prior to taking a break to raise her children and run a business for 17 years.

In addition to teaching at Avalon Elementary, she launched the elementary drama program and directed high school musicals. She also orchestrated a partnership with California University of Pennsylvania and received a joint grant through the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to start the elementary school’s maker program.

“There are many elementary science teachers that have a deeper knowledge of science than I do,” Klicker said. “My focus is to help my students learn to think like a scientist through inquiry-based teaching and to connect them to their community through project-based experiences.”

For example, Klicker partnered with Avalon Borough to teach students about municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4), a system of storm drains, pipes or ditches designed to collect or convey stormwater. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requires municipalities to map their stormwater conveyances to national waterways, test stormwater for pollutants and reduce those pollutants in waterways.

Klicker and the local government collaborated to address the MS4’s public outreach requirement by teaching students about eliminating pollution from local catch basins so that the issues don’t reach larger bodies of water. The students worked on stormwater management projects afterward.

Klicker stressed the importance of risk taking within the classroom. “To be willing to take a risk and share your thinking is essential. For that to happen you have to establish a classroom where kids will respect other students’ thinking and not fear being ridiculed if they share an idea.

“In fact, sometimes I’ll congratulate a student for a wrong answer,” she added. “I’ll give them a sticker or special Post-it Note to encourage students to take risks and learn from their mistakes.”

Northgate Superintendent Dr. Caroline Johns said that the entire administration supported Klicker’s nomination. “She is one of those teachers who changes lives. In her classroom, she is an expert at project-based learning, which allows all of her students the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and discover talents they didn't know they possessed.

“Students have multiple opportunities to showcase their projects, which they do with enthusiasm,” Johns continued. “What is even more exciting is they don't realize the real-world career skills they are developing as they plan their presentations and explain their work to different audiences.”

Klicker is grateful to have won the award. "It's overwhelming, and I am very thankful for the opportunities I have been given,” she said.