Hockinson elementary teacher receives state award for excellence in active teaching


A fourth grade Hockinson Heights Elementary School teacher may soon receive the highest recognition in public school science teaching in the United States.

Last month, Renae Skar was named one of four Washington state finalists for the 2024 Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

Growing up in Kalama, Skar was inspired to become a teacher after experiencing project-based science lessons. She has taught students at Hockinson Heights Elementary for the past seven years, incorporating fun activities into her curricula. She will receive her state award in October during the PAEMST Washington State Conference in recognition of her excellence in science lessons to her fourth grade class.

“I learn with them every single day, and I have the best job in the world,” Skar said. “It’s so much fun, and they just have that energy level and that spunk that just excites me to come to work every day.”

Every year, her students’ favorite unit is her salmon curriculum. Each January, Skar brings salmon eggs donated from the Columbia Springs program for her students to observe and name in the class fish tank. Her students witness local salmon’s birth and early stages until they are old enough to survive on their own.

Every May, her students release the grown fish into Salmon Creek during a field trip. During the process, Skar lectures her students about the salmon’s behavior and environmental importance. Each student creates a presentation about a specific problem salmon face at the end of the unit.

“A couple of years ago, I had a [former student] bring me a picture. He went fishing in Alaska and caught a salmon and wanted to bring it to me because of our salmon unit. So this kind of learning definitely sticks with the kids,” Skar recalled.

Skar continues her activity-based teaching into other curricula, including history. Her students are currently learning about the Oregon Trail by creating characters and playing games simulating the difficulty of the journey. Throughout the journey, kids manage their food and finances while writing about their experiences in a journal, which is shared with the class at the end of the school year.

“I hear a lot of kids say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so hard. I’m not gonna make it,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the way that I was back then, too,’” Skar said.

After a year, two of the four Washington state PAEMST finalists will receive national awards and recognition from the president of the United States. Skar is nervous but excited at the prospect of meeting the president. She hopes she can be a role model for her past, present and future students more than anything.

“You’re dealing with 27 little bodies that have 27 different needs, so I think [teaching] is a very important job and an important role,” Skar said. “You have 180 days to do everything you can to get them as far as you can.”