MOUNT CLEMENS — Prevail Academy teacher Robert Tonti has been an astronaut, he has lived for a week like Jacques Cousteau, and he’s also a former restaurant owner.
While the latter has nothing to do with the latest educational scholarship he has been awarded, the first two are thanks to similar scholarships he has won over the years.
Tonti, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science and eighth-grade algebra, recently learned that he’s one of 40 teachers selected nationwide to participate in the Siemens Teachers as Researchers (STARs) program at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Tonti, 51, of Roseville, will spend two weeks in July at the Oak Ridge laboratory working side by side with scientists and researchers on short-term projects.
He said the professional development program also provides resources on how to incorporate research into his classroom.
“I’m very excited, very thrilled,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning what the other teachers are doing, making connections, liaisons and new friends.”
Siemens provides the opportunity to middle and high school science teachers to help develop their understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills, which will help with interpreting and teaching understanding of the Common Core curriculum.
The Siemens fellowship will soon join a unique list of high level professional development experiences for Tonti. He participated in Space Academy for Educators at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama where he experienced astronaut training. He also spent a week at Michigan State University’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory detecting atoms from space, performed scientific experiments on Lake Superior with the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence, and had numerous professional development opportunities with NASA.
“I am anticipating improving on my foundation of the scientific method and looking forward to becoming a real scientist for two weeks!” Tonti said. “I also hope to do many labs that I can bring back to my students in order to support the STEM disciplines.”
Tonti, who has taught at the Mount Clemens charter school for seven years, says all of these experiences have helped shape him as a teacher.
“Since I teach with labs instead of books, I find it is easier to reach a broad spectrum of students because they can explain the scientific concept to me in their own words after completing the experiment,” he said.
Prevail Academy Principal Nicole Young said the entire school is proud that one of their own is the only Michigan teacher honored with the highly sought-after scholarship.
“Robert is an outstanding teacher. His passion for science can be felt throughout the building,” she said. “The commitment he has for his own professional development is not only inspiring, but also provides a wonderful academic benefit to our students. We have a top science teacher here at Prevail.”
Tonti said he shared the entire application process with his students, hoping to inspire them to reach for new opportunities even when faced with difficult odds.
“When the email came through, I immediately shared it with my students,” he said. “My homeroom erupted into applause and cheers. I was so happy.”