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Computer Science Teacher Named Finalist in Presidential Award for Teaching Excellence

We congratulate Computer Science Teacher Mrs. Anita Debarlaben on becoming a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST)! The Presidential Awards are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K–12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teaching.
The Awards were established by Congress in 1983, and the President may recognize up to 108 exemplary teachers each year. Mrs. Debarlaben was chosen as one of three math teacher finalists to represent the state of Illinois. Next, her application will be forwarded to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for national review. The NSF administers PAEMST on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The award recognizes those teachers who have both deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to be successful in those areas. Awardees reflect the expertise and dedication of the nation's teaching corps and they demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement. 

“Not only is Mrs. Debarlaben one of the best teachers I have ever had, but she is one of the best people I have ever met,” says Honors Computer Science Student John Phillips ’22. “A great teacher inspires you to think bigger, to love learning and to be the best person you can be for others. Every single class period Mrs. Debarlaben has inspired in me these three ideals. Beyond the Computer Science and the coding I will carry with me into college and beyond, I will never forget Mrs. Debarlaben’s motto in our class: ‘Let your faith be bigger than your fear.’ Whether it was a difficult programming assignment or feeling stressed about life and school, she would remind us of this mantra.” 

The intensive selection process includes a nomination; an extensive application consisting of administrative, narrative and video components; and a competitive selection both at the state and national levels. 

“It is amazing that I got this far on my first try,” says Mrs. Debarlaben.  “The process is very time consuming, detailed and requires that you spend a lot of time thinking about how you teach.  You have to teach with a real sense of purpose and maximum focus.  One of my favorite lines that I included in my write up is that ‘I am an engineer that meta-morphed into a teacher.’  Another one of my favorite lines is, ‘Teaching is a two way street.’ In other words, I believe teachers and students are teaching each other.”

Of the five dimensions that are assessed, Mrs. Debarlaben earned her highest score in the category of "Mastery of content appropriate for grade level taught." Mrs. Debarlaben brings twenty years of Software Engineering into her classroom and often thinks back to what it took to create quality software in the industry. She knows that students need more than book knowledge—“They also need soft skills and people skills to help them present their book knowledge in a more effective way,” she says. In addition to engineering experience, Mrs. Debarlaben is also an adjunct professor and is always looking for knowledge to help improve her high school curriculum and prepare her students for the next level.  “Being an adjunct professor is like having a paid professional development opportunity that continually gives me material to improve my lessons,” she adds. 

Mrs. Debarlaben also earned a high score in the dimension "Leadership in education inside and outside of the classroom.” She was recognized for her efforts to bring in guest speakers each year; traveling to Springfield, Illinois, to serve on a Computer Science (CS) committee to help shape how CS teachers are viewed, judged, assessed and represented in the state of Illinois; serving as an AP reader for Computer Science Principles; and being a Girl Scout leader that inspired her entire troop to earn the Gold Award.

“Mrs. Debarlaben has been such a pivotal figure in my life,” reflects Ardyn Chin ’22, a student in Honors Computer Science. “Ever since my freshman year at Loyola Academy, Mrs. D has been a teacher I could always turn to. She has helped me in so many ways whether it was offering to review confusing algebra concepts, assisting me in gaining access to so many unique experiences in the Computer Science industry, or critiquing AYG’s performances for International Night. Mrs. Debarlaben has always been there to support me in my endeavors.” 

Prior to national review, Mrs. Debarlaben and other state finalists have the opportunity to respond to state level review feedback through submission of a PAEMST addendum. Debarlaben earned a very high score in the first round. “My goal is to improve it to 100 with the addendum materials I will submit,” she adds. 

Recipients of the award receive the following:
  • A certificate signed by the President of the United States
  • A paid trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities
  • A $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation
  • An opportunity to build lasting partnerships with colleagues across the nation
We congratulate Mrs. Debarlaben on this outstanding honor and wish her the best of luck as she enters national review!


The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching have been rewarding and inspiring great teaching since 1983. Learn more at https://www.paemst.org/home/view
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