Lacombe Composite High School teacher receives Prime Minister’s Award

Steven Schultz receives the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a ceremony in Ottawa on May 28, 2019. Patrick Doyle

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There are a number of different ways to describe Lacombe Composite High School’s Steven Schultz, but perhaps only one term effectively encapsulates them all: teacher.

Lacombe’s 2018 Citizen of the year, mentor, hard worker, and a great listener with an innovative mind, he’s now among 17 educators in the country recognized at the 2019 Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 28.

The recipient of a Certificate of Excellence, Schultz said there were three emotions he had upon learning he was being recognized with the award.

“At first it was shock, then excitement, and the third emotion was just a deep sense of pride for my students’ accomplishments over the past 25 years,” he said. “Whoever would have thought that something like that would happen to a teacher in Lacombe?”

The answer is many of his students, as well as the members of the community who nominated him.

In the public announcement made on May 21, he was recognized for “encouraging students, regardless of ability, race or gender, to pursue their passions and strengths,” as well as using project-based learning strategies to aid in his students’ education.

He started a robotics program 15 years ago that has now created buzz around STEM throughout central Alberta, as well as developed the first Green Certificate beekeeping program in the country. He’s helped the EcoVision club build a two-acre garden, launch a compost program and build a tropical greenhouse – initiatives which helped lead LCHS to being named Canada’s Greenest School in 2018.

If you ask him, however, he’s just been following the passions of his students.

“Our future has a lot riding on STEM so we need to hopefully be ready to help students find that focus so they can make a significant difference,” he said. “Having said that, I think what’s more important is helping our youth find what their passions are and providing them with every opportunity to live out those passions through real world, life experiences.”

Clearly, that approach has worked as students in his classes continually sit above provincial averages with less than one per cent of students failing his courses over his 25 years, including 30-level (diploma) courses in science and chemistry.

As someone who says watching students succeed and overcome challenges gives him the most joy, some of the stand-out moments of his career involve his students being recognized with prestigious awards such as the Emerald Award or attending the World Championships with robotics for a third time in spite of obstacles throughout the year, not to mention various environmental grants and watershed contests.

More recently, he said his students built a robotic dog prototype that they intend to become a security system of sorts for farmers or others looking to protect their properties, which couldn’t be a more timely project given the prevalence of rural crime in the central Alberta region.

“It’s solving a real world problem and to see my students succeed and creating it all on their own from scratch gives me an absolutely incredible sense of pride,” he said.

“For me to have had this awesome ride and discovering how we can do that within the confines of our educational restrictions where we have to teach certain curriculum, that makes it even more special.”

Together with his students, they’ve discovered ways to incorporate and intertwine practical learning with curriculum points, in particular through various CTS strands.

At present, he says there’s three, possibly four projects or initiatives he’s pursuing.

For one, he’s looking to find ways to ensure the programs LCHS has started won’t be lost as staff changes, including mentoring community volunteers to coordinate some of the gardening projects, and getting a group of teachers from across central Alberta together to find ways to make such programs sustainable.

Secondly, he wants to make robotics more accessible to students, as he says some of the more academic students struggle to find room in their timetable for it. To that end, he wants to develop a pre-engineering, robotics, mechatronics type course incorporating math, physics and electronics into a single course.

Thirdly, with the EcoVision Club, he says they’re looking to introduce animal husbandry into the curriculum. They’re working to find a partner in the community to aid them in building an agricultural hub where the school could house animals, such as goats, for educational purposes, as well as retail space for farmers and specialty agricultural industries such as honey.

“It’s going to be a really large project, so it’s going to probably be two or three years before its completed but we’re hoping by sometime next year we’ll have our first animal barn on school property,” he said.

All projects and programs they pursue, however, will have the passion of his students as driving force behind them, just as he believes they were the driving force behind his award.

“I just really feel I’ve been called to allow students to dream and provide the resources for those dreams to become a reality,” he said.

“This award should be shared with the multitude of students and community members and sponsors that have believed in our programs, sacrificed, overcome challenges and done the impossible.”

The full video of the awards ceremony can be found on the Canadian Innovation Facebook page.

His award profile can be found at http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/pmate-ppmee.nsf/eng/wz02342.html.

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