CAPS teacher wins regional award

CAPs teacher and robotics coach Kenton Swartley won the 2021 Northeast Iowa STEM Teacher Award this year after being nominated by his students and community members.

Swartley said that he’s “always been interested in learning about how things work” and due to this he makes sure to “always connect concepts from the class to applications outside the classroom. This focus on real world applications is a key component of STEM and one of the key focus points that got me involved in robotics and drew me more into the STEM world.”

Swartley said that his favorite part of teaching is “seeing students engaged in the learning process through interacting with other students, myself as a teacher and classroom materials. I think the favorite part of mentoring is seeing students work together as a team on a project and successfully completing their work.”

Swartley’s students are grateful for the experiences he’s given them in the STEM world. Junior Charlie VanHooreweghe, a member of team 525 the Swartdogs, has been impacted by STEM and said it has “provided me skills and experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve gained knowledge about topics I was always interested in, but confused about. I get to learn new things every day, in an environment that makes it much easier and fun to do so. It has also provided me with a family.” 

According to VanHooreweghe, team 525 has “been nothing but supportive of me, even with me being nonbinary, even with my disabilities. It’s given me happiness and a reason to keep going when things are rough; it’s given me something to look forward to every day.”

VanHooreweghe said that “STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is important because it is found literally everywhere. STEM makes up a lot of our world today, whether we like it or not, which means it is a critical part of our society. It is also important because people in this field are constantly coming up with ideas to make things better for our world and society as a whole.”

Fellow member of 525 sophomore Hannah Batterson agreed, stating that “Without STEM, the modernized world would not exist. It is the pushing force of innovation.” 

Batterson also describes robotics as “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.”

Many students look up to Swartley, and Batterson said she believes it is because “he can motivate kids to care about other people and what the effects of their actions are. He works to always highlight the positives of student work, allowing them to feel included,” and “he is different from other teachers as he ties everything he teaches to the real world, the effects of what we do, and helps us to see the impact that we have on the community.”

VanHooreweghe said that “we look up to Mr. Swartley simply because of who he is as a person. He always encourages us to do our best and simply be who we are. We look up to him because he has shaped our lives and future for the better.” 

Also according to VanHooreweghe something that sets Swartley aside from other teachers is “the work he puts into our team and helping the students. It seems like he’s almost constantly at our buildsite, and when he’s not, it feels weird. He’s always around to help us when we need it, and it is clear that he enjoys what he’s doing. It’s clear that he really does care about our success with the team and just as people in general.”

But Swartley hasn’t just been supporting his students. He has been impacted by them as well. He said, “Students continue to challenge me to learn new skills and technologies. It’s an opportunity for me to learn alongside the students. I also appreciate the chance to build relationships with students outside the typical classroom setting and to see their development and growth in high school and beyond.”

Swartley said he believes that “we are very fortunate in Iowa to have the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council promoting STEM opportunities in the state and for Kemin Industries and the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council to recognize the contributions of STEM teachers throughout the state. It is truly an honor to be nominated for and receive the award.”

Swartley’s advice for students thinking about going into a STEM field is “to jump in and learn as much as they can. Also, I’d advise all students to try a course that truly integrates all of the parts of STEM. The emphasis on problem solving, collaboration and technology is something that will be valuable to everyone, even those that don’t end up in a STEM career.”

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