STEM Teacher and Student of the Year

Monroe Area High School’s Gino Elia and Loganville High School’s Brett Pietruszka have been named the Walton County School District’s 2020 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Teacher and Student of the Year. 

The district’s STEM Teacher of the Year award program, made possible by the generosity and support of Dr. Elmer Swartzmeyer, was introduced in 2017 to recognize and reward Walton County high school STEM teachers that go above normal classroom teaching requirements to expose students to “real world” usage of a STEM discipline during the school year through interaction with business and industry. Continuing in his support of STEM education, Dr. Swartzmeyer endowed a $1000 student scholarship for the STEM Student of the Year beginning in 2019. 

For three years, physics teacher Gina Elia has worked to develop rigorous, skills-based STEM education for the students at Monroe Area High School. Through project-based learning assignments designed to foster student motivation, like student-built balloon cars, rube goldberg machines, projectile launchers, soda rockets, electroscopes, complex circuits and even homemade light bulbs, Elia works to integrate physics with technology, engineering and mathematics in order to create a STEM culture in his classroom where students are able to see how physics can be applied in everyday life. In addition, Elia has led Monroe Area High School’s Science Fair Team in successful competitions at both regional and state science fairs. 

“We are very appreciative of Mr. Elia and his dedication to improving STEM education at Monroe Area High School,” said Principal Bryan Hicks, “Mr. Elia has built many lessons that integrate STEM components. In addition, he has introduced new researched-based learning assignments that transform written lessons into hands-on projects that are meaningful to his students. We are proud to have Mr. Elia as a member of the Hurricane family and congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.” 

Loganville High School Senior Brett Pietruszka has excelled in the world of STEM both in the classroom and in extracurriculars. As a student, Pietruszka has found success in higher level Advanced Placement math and science classes, taken several Engineering Pathway courses and even assisted in the school’s Media Center as a Chromebook Tech. As a member of the Technology Student Association (TSA) and VEX Robotics, Pietruszka has spent a lot of time building and programming robots for competitions. His personal interest in game design has led him to creating multiple video games in his free time using various programming languages. In addition, Pietruszka was selected as a finalist in the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) to study mathematics. GHP is a highly competitive residential summer program for gifted and talented rising high school juniors and seniors.

Teacher Don Wisdom said, “In addition to being very gifted and talented, Brett is extremely bright and disciplined. He has the initiative and desire to learn independently, always demonstrating a superior work ethic, along with a heightened curiosity. He also freely helps his peers to understand difficult mathematical and computer science concepts.” 

STEM education is defined as problem-solving, student centered, discovery approach to teaching and learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Students develop ideas and solutions to real problems and dilemmas faced in industry and research. A STEM-centered course or unit looks like the exact opposite of a traditional, teacher-centered classroom.

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