President Obama presents a May graduate with an award for excellence in teaching


Students of fifth-grade teacher Amanda Northrup MAEd ’11 don’t always realize they’re learning. Northrup uses fun activities that guide her pupils to figure things out for themselves, and that approach to teaching helped earn Northrup the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in April.

Northrup, 29, teaches at Riverbend Elementary, with a few more than 300 students, in the town of Clyde. One of 85 math and science teachers from around the country receiving the award, Northrup won $10,000 and traveled to Washington in May for a White House reception and a chance to meet the president. “A big thing it means to me is recognition for Haywood County schools,” she said. “I really think Haywood County has one of the best school systems in the state of North Carolina.”

Northrup learned she was a finalist for the award last fall. She was a student in her final semester in the WCU master’s degree program in educational administration when she received an email – the week before spring commencement ceremonies – notifying her that she had won. Carol Douglas ’86 MAEd ’98 EdS ’03 EdD ’11, human resources director for Haywood County schools, said Northrup’s energy sets her apart. “She is very innovative in the classroom,” Douglas said. “I’ve watched her teach [and] she’s just a natural.”

In an announcement on the White House website, President Barack Obama said the winners “have demonstrated uncommon skill and devotion in the classroom, nurturing the young minds of tomorrow’s science and math leaders. America’s competitiveness rests on the excellence of our citizens in technical fields, and we owe these teachers a debt of gratitude for strengthening America’s prosperity.” A panel of scientists, mathematicians and educators selected the winners. The other winner from North Carolina was Zebetta King of Wake County Schools in the science teaching category.

A North Carolina Teaching Fellows scholarship recipient who earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Northrup is in her eighth year at Riverbend, where she began as a third-grade teacher. “I didn’t plan to be a teacher,” Northrup said. “[The Teaching Fellows program] requires four years of teaching service. When my four years were over, I loved teaching.”

Amanda Northrup MAEd ’11, a math teacher at Riverbend Elementary in Haywood County, earned $10,000 and a trip to Washington. President Barack Obama, with Northrup to his right, greeted award recipients in the East Room of the White House in May. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Reprinted in edited form with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.