Samantha Masco found inspiration as a teacher pretty close to home: her mother, a Carbondale Area educator for decades. These days, this science-loving teacher works to expose students to skills they’ll need to succeed in the future, even as she works to help them succeed in and out of the classroom today. Read on to find out more about what motivates her.

Q: Why did you become a teacher?

A: From a very young age, I knew that I wanted to help people. I entered La Salle University as a biology pre-med major and eventually lost interest in becoming a medical doctor. I completed my studies with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and minor in biology and Italian. My mother was an educator in the Carbondale Area School District for over 30 years and because of the positive impact I saw she had made on countless students’ lives, I thought maybe teaching was for me.

I have been fortunate to have so many wonderful teachers throughout my lives that have made meaningful impacts on my life, I thought as an educator, I would be able to do the same for them. For many years after college, I was a day-to-day substitute between a few districts, but most of the time I spent at Carbondale Area. Eventually I obtained a master’s degree in education from Wilkes University in middle level science as well as a STEM endorsement. My first full time position at Carbondale Area was in the junior high Life Skills classroom, and the following year I was hired as a middle level science teacher, teaching General Science 7 and Introduction to STEM lab.

The most surprising thing about being a teacher is that you literally learn something new every day. Being around young people each day, you never know what to expect. As a teacher I must be willing to admit when I am not sure of something and lead by example so that students feel comfortable in my classroom. Having been born and raised in Carbondale, it was really a no-brainer as to where I wanted to teach. Fortunately, Carbondale Area provided me with countless opportunities to master my craft of teaching in both the elementary and high school buildings. Working alongside of some of the area’s best educators and staff has really helped shape me into the educator I am today.

Q: STEM — and STEAM — education has been a big focus in schools recently. Why is it important?

A: STEM education is so important since our world is evolving and changing each day. My students will be vying for jobs that have not even been created yet, so it is imperative that they understand 21st century skills that will prepare them for secondary education or the workplace. Many people believe that STEM is just an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, which it is, but it is so much more than standalone content areas. STEM truly allows for students who may struggle in one traditional area of the content to gain an understanding of the concept through a different way, often by hands on learning, and the students are able to authentically master that skill.

In 2020, I wrote and was awarded a PA SmartGrant to help supplement our STEM curriculum in the Junior High School. Through that $35,000 I have been able to implement a STEM curriculum where students use the engineering design process to create tiny houses. Students begin by understanding what a tiny house is, they go through the planning stages, draft floorplans and blueprints, and ultimately create models of their tiny houses. We also have a laser engraver, several 3D printers, and many other coding and computer science tools that can be used by all content area teachers to supplement and enhance their curriculum.

The thing I love most about teaching STEM is that every student can succeed using the design process and the 4 C’s. Students can collaborate with their peers and help each other through the critical thinking process. Students can be creative and use their creativity in a way that they may not be able to express themselves in traditional classes. Lastly, students gain important skills in communication as they learn to present their ideas and gain feedback from peers throughout the process.

Q: In addition to teaching science, you also serve as co-advisor for the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science. What is your role there?

A: As co-advisor, my role is to approve students’ projects and then oversee their research and analysis process. Students research, carry out and analyze experiments and then present them to professionals at a regional competition each March. PJAS gives many students the opportunity to showcase their talents and abilities in other ways than through sports.

Students who are not necessarily interested in science can benefit from participating in PJAS as it helps students follow the scientific method and make a hypothesis and then if that outcome is not achieved, they are able to communicate why they did not achieve their desired results. Many students like the aspect that they can gain important public speaking skills through the competition.

Students prepare presentations and report their findings at a regional competition at Wilkes University and then the first-place winners go on to the state competition at Penn State University each spring.

Students who participate in PJAS are typically very self-motivated as they carry out all the project on their own outside of class time. As advisor, students know they can stop by my classroom at any time for assistance and once it is closer to competition teachers throughout the building allow students to present to their students so that they get used to speaking in front of crowds and answering questions.Q: Outside of teaching, how are you involved at Carbondale Area?

A: Outside of the classroom, I am the Unified Sports coach for Carbondale Area. Unified Sports is a collaboration between the district and the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania. Carbondale Area participates in Unified Bocce and Unified Track and Field. Unified Sports takes students with and without physical and intellectual disabilities and partners them on one collective team. The idea is that through sports, friendships and bonds are made. Carbondale Area was one of the first schools in our area to be offered Unified Track in 2018. During competition, each participant competes against those of the same ability and points are awarded for first, second, and third place. Students participate in one running event (100m, 400m, 800m) and one field event (shotput, mini javelin, long jump). Athletes and partners then join on relay teams and compete in the 4 x 100m relay and 4 x 400m relays.

In 2019, Carbondale Area represented our region at the PIAA Track and Field State Championships at Shippensburg University. For many athletes, this was the first time they were away from home and staying with their peers. After two days of competition, we placed sixth in the state and were welcomed back home by a police and fire truck escort and parade through Carbondale.

Carbondale Area also offers Unified Bocce which is a winter sport. In the winter of 2019-20, we hosted the regional competition and won the right to represent our region at the state championships which were to be held in Hershey in March of 2020. Due to COVID-19, the championships were postponed. We did not have a bocce season this past year due to COVID, but did participate in virtual track meets, placing third in the region.

The thing I love most about Unified Sports is the true culture change that has occurred since we’ve implemented the program. Students who typically would not associate with each other are now sitting together at lunch together, walking to class together and participating in other extra-curricular activities. The smiles on everyone’s face can make you forget your worst day. For the students who are partners, it gives them an appreciation for their academic and athletic talents and for the athletes, just being a part of a PIAA recognized sport is something many never thought they’d be able to do. Being involved in Unified is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I am so thankful that Carbondale Area for this opportunity for our students.

Q: With all that you’re involved in at Carbondale Area, do you have time for hobbies?

A: Currently I am enrolled in the doctoral program at Wilkes University in education leadership and working toward my administrative certificate. I am very involved in my community, I am a member of the Pioneer Nights Committee, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 221 where I serve as historian and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Altar and Rosary Society. I am a huge Penn State football fan and have season tickets with my brother. My family and I are also big Philadelphia Phillies fans. I am the daughter of Joseph and Angela Masco and have one brother, Nathan. I have two dogs, Max and Coal.