Frankfort man is Teacher of Year — in Hawaii
BY ERIN GALLAGHER Correspondent November 17, 2013 7:50PM
Matthew Lawrence | Supplied photo
Updated: December 19, 2013 6:02AM
When Waikiki Elementary School teacher Matt Lawrence discovered students were underperforming in measurements and geometry, he kicked their education into high gear. He taught them to build a bike-pedaled generator, a climbing wall and electric-powered bikes.
These projects are largely the reasons why the Frankfort native, now living in Honolulu, earned Hawaii’s Teacher of the Year Award.
“My philosophy of education is that students should actually experience the concepts they should be learning,” Lawrence said.
A graduate of Lincoln-Way Central High School, Lawrence went on to earn an associate’s degree at Joliet Junior College. While at Illinois State University, he enrolled in a student-teacher program in Hawaii and never looked back.
Lawrence said that as a student, he often was bored in classrooms. He wasn’t the type to learn from lectures and blackboards.
“What I wanted to do was have a classroom where kids who were like me actually want to be in school,” he said.
He arranges his classroom with tables so students from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds learn how to work together.
Lawrence credits his parents for the emotional support and financial help that got him through school. His mother, Beth Lawrence, was the school nurse at Lincoln-Way for many years, and now works at Silver Cross Hospital. His father, Mark, works at Ford Motor Co.’s Chicago Stamping Plant.
Lawrence teaches fifth- and sixth-grade math and science. Kids learned concepts of scale, ratios, perimeter and area in order to build the 14-foot rock-climbing wall in the cafeteria. The electric-powered bikes were part of the Hawaiian Energy Challenge. They also powered classroom lights through a bike generator.
“At one point, the power went out and we were the only class in the area or in our school that had some lights,” he said.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie selected Lawrence over 11,000 other educators, each of whom was nominated by his or her principal. Lawrence was given a Mazda3 by the local dealership.
His parents happened to be in Hawaii to witness him earn the award. They were there to congratulate him and his wife, Jessika, on the birth of their first child, Lily Ann, on Sept. 17.
“It’s been a pretty wild month and a half,” he said.