Dedicated Guilford physics teacher shines bright in her field

Monday, October 20, 2008 6:08 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Many students think of physics as a class to get through as quickly as possible and forget even faster.

But one of Raisa Roginsky’s former students was so impressed with her class that he wrote a letter to the federal Department of Education nominating her for a national teaching award.

Last week, the department announced that Roginsky, a physics teacher at Guilford High School, is Connecticut’s American Star of Teaching for 2008.

The department issues the award for teachers “with a track record of improving student achievement, using innovative instructional strategies and making a difference in the lives of their students,” according to the department’s Web site. The annual award goes to one teacher in every state and the District of Columbia and does not include a monetary prize.

Roginsky said she knew her former student, Jeffrey Cash, had written the letter of support, but she was surprised at a recent Board of Education meeting when a representative from the Department of Education announced the win.

“I kind of forgot — this was a long time ago,” Roginsky said, adding that she reacted with “pleasant embarrassment” to the news.

Roginsky, who is originally from Russia, is in her eighth year teaching at Guilford High School. Prior to that she taught at a private school in New London and in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Her colleagues described Roginsky as a dedicated and innovative teacher who forms a personal connection with her students.

“She calls it like she sees it, and she doesn’t let them slip,” Ernie Smoker, the school’s other physics teacher, said. “She’s a straight shooter and that’s why they appreciate what she says.”

Principal Rick Misenti said Roginsky was an ideal candidate for the award.

“I think she meets the criteria perfectly,” he said. “She’s exemplary. She has demonstrated via results that she does improve student achievement.”

In his letter, Cash wrote, “To some, a love of physics is innate. For many others, this abstract yet wonderful subject needs a little explanation, and needs to win people over, even people who may be scientists at heart. Mrs. Roginsky provided this human connection to us, and let us overcome our own preconceptions about science in order to focus on the formulae, the laws, and the mathematical concepts.”

Roginsky teaches regular and advanced placement physics and has seen the program grow from three classes to the current eight. She also coaches the school’s physics team in competitions across the state.

She said she works to make sure that students understand the practical applications of physics in their lives as well as the importance of scientific principles for many 21st-century professions. Since physics is an elective course, she tries to put the focus more on learning than grades and will allow students to retake tests or demonstrate their abilities in other ways.

While not all of her students will go on to study physics or science, she said, she thinks that the course can inform them in many ways. And she said she learns from them too, with self-appointed “language advisors” who correct her English grammar or pronunciation.

“They are really great — a really interesting bunch,” she said. “They are not only math and physics kids, they are good writers and good people. I really love my children.”

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