Lawrenceville teacher wins historic STEM Teacher of the Year award

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Sarah Sutton of Ben Franklin Elementary in Lawrenceville established a first in Mercer County.

That honor in the county was the result of Sutton being named the first Elementary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Teacher of the Year.

The award and distinction is provided by the Mercer County Professional Engineers Society.

The award has been previously been awarded  to only high school teachers.

“I was a little bit surprised, because of when you think of STEM and engineering it sounds so advanced,” Sutton said. “Some people think younger kids will not be able to do it. I was just honored that the society was recognizing what were are doing at the elementary level.”

Sutton teaches 27 students, as well as being a homeroom teacher that teaches more than one subject.

For the past five years she has built a small project that has turned into an event for her students with the help of her brother, George Zimmer, who happens to be an engineer.

“He would come in and talk about a little of what he did in school learning to become an engineer,” she said. “We would then go on to give the children a challenge with straws, paper clips and basic simple materials. We would challenge them to build a tower that can hold a little bit of weight.”

Sutton said over time she was able to build the project idea after her brother graduated college and started working in the engineering field.

“We were able to expand it to the entire third grade of Ben Franklin Elementary for a one day a year event,” Sutton said. “We were able to have more people from his company come over. We have multiple types of engineers in different areas that include the environmental department and the marketing department.”

Zimmer currently works for WSP USA, an engineering firm with an office in Lawrence Township.

“I think it is important to introduce children to all kinds of topics at this age. This is when they are so open to new things and excited to learn them. The more things we can expose them to and teach them will open them up to better opportunities,” she said.

When Sutton is teaching STEM in her class she said the children design, create and have so many good ideas.

“A couple weeks ago the children had to design an experiment to see how much water a seed can soak up,” Sutton said. “I really did not give them much instruction. They had to give me the materials they would need and the procedures. For third graders at eight and nine years old they designed the experiments.”

She said even though it is simple and basic her teaching of STEM and having the event each year is the beginning to inspiring possible future engineers.

“The best part to me is when the children are excited about learning and ask to do more. That is what you want as a teacher,” she said.