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South Hampstead High School science teacher shortlisted for $1m global education prize

PUBLISHED: 12:46 13 December 2018

South Hampstead High School science teacher Emma Russo has been shortlisted for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019.

South Hampstead High School science teacher Emma Russo has been shortlisted for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019.

Archant

A South Hampstead School High teacher who is determined to break down barriers for girls in science has been shortlisted for a $1m global education prize.

South Hampstead High School science teacher Emma Russo has been shortlisted for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019.South Hampstead High School science teacher Emma Russo has been shortlisted for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019.

Emma Russo, a physics and science teacher at the girls’ independent school, has won a place in the top 50 shortlist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2019 for her efforts to change the statistic that only 9per cent of engineers in the UK are female.

Her work, both in the classroom by setting up Skype calls for her students with global scientists to see the real-world applications of their learning, and outside of it by growing a London-wide network of girls sharing experiences in science and hearing from female role models in the field, has made her one of three British teachers to be shortlisted.

Starting out in her career, Emma began to witness capable, interested girls who were not continuing with the subject because they lacked confidence in the face of pervading cultural attitudes towards women in science and they did not see that studying physics could set them on a stellar career path.

Emma encouraged them to share her boundless passion for the sciences by using affordable Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets and mobile phones to gaze into the night sky as though they were in their own personal planetarium, chase the tails of comets, and explore the surface of planets.

Alperton Community School teacher Andria Zafirakou?. Photo by Alperton Community SchoolAlperton Community School teacher Andria Zafirakou?. Photo by Alperton Community School

“So many girls find physics and engineering interesting and engaging, but don’t see it as being for them,” Emma said.

“I aspire to show young women that there are professionals just like them doing amazing work in these fields, and support them to follow their passions in STEM subjects.

“Connecting girls with one another and industry professionals has enabled them to see that there are incredible opportunities for people just like them to pursue, and I have been inspired to see talented young women go on to study higher level physics and engineering.”

But Emma’s drive to awaken a love for science among girls extends far beyond her classroom. Three years ago, Emma created Girls in Physics – a termly event at Highgate School where girls from across London are invited with their female parents or guardians to hear from women researchers or industry professionals in physics or engineering.

Alperton Community School teacher Andria Zafirakou?. Photo by Alperton Community SchoolAlperton Community School teacher Andria Zafirakou?. Photo by Alperton Community School

These role models share their personal and professional journey as well as their experience of being female and often the minority voice in that space.

These events now have more than 120 people attending regularly, and Emma has grown a network of students sharing opportunities, work experiences and science-related activities.

She believes that through championing girls and their further study of physics and engineering and in challenging gender stereotypes girls can be supported and empowered to make the right choices.

Emma also created and hosts the podcast Education Passport, in which she interviews educators from around the globe in order to share what is going on in their classrooms and education systems.

The podcast has a growing audience from a diverse range of countries and uses this area of technology to inspire other teachers and enable them to form international connections.

The top 50 teachers are narrowed down to 10 finalist teachers, with that result announced in February. All 10 finalists will be invited to Dubai for the Award ceremony in March.

The prize was set up to recognise one teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.

The winner of last year’s gong was Andria Zafirakou, an art and textiles teacher from Alperton Community School. The legacy of Andria’s win has seen 30 schools in London including Acland Burghley taking part in the pioneering Artists in Residence scheme, or AIR, with Mark Wallinger set to work with students at the Tufnell Park school over the next year.

Last year’s award ceremony was hosted by comedian Trevor Noah and included a performance by Grammy award-winning singer Jennifer Hudson. Five time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton raced to the ceremony escorted by three Dubai Police supercars to deliver the Global Teacher Prize trophy to the stage and Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a special video message to the ceremony thanking Andria for her work.

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