From TCNJ to the state’s top teacher

Christine Girtain ’94 leads the way in science education.

When Christine (Stenzel) Girtain ’94 won the 2022–23 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year she felt it validated the hard work she’s put into her 28-year career as a science teacher in the Toms River Regional School District.

In her role as director of authentic science research at both Toms River High School North and South, Girtain has led an innovative science inquiry program in which students take a three-year course and conduct independent research for college credit.

Student projects cover topics as varied as the effects of fruit seed extracts on bacteria to how mites could cause the collapse of bee colonies. Girtain is also a proponent of international science education and has partnered her students with peers in Israel, Belize and Nigeria to work collaboratively on STEM activities.

“Making connections with academic leaders globally allows me to grow as an educator,” Girtain says. “In turn, my students work with diverse teams in other parts of the world and gain a broader perspective about how they can make an impact in the sciences.”

Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan describes Girtain’s influence: “The Teacher of the Year serves as an exemplar of the kinds of dynamic instruction that is occurring in classrooms throughout New Jersey, and Christine truly sets the standard for innovation. The way she ignites an interest in the sciences will benefit her students long after high school,” she says.

As a Teacher of the Year, Girtain was rewarded a six-month sabbatical from Toms River to work alongside the New Jersey Department of Education to give presentations to state stakeholders, visit classrooms to encourage participation in STEM fields, and attend national conferences. She is even scheduled to meet President Joe Biden.

“This award has given me a voice,” Girtain says. “I’m very lucky. I love what I do.”

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