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Boulder educator who taught in Helena receives prestigious national award
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Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Boulder educator who taught in Helena receives prestigious national award

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Among the ranks of rural Jefferson High School in Boulder is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

The school recently hired Mary Anne McMahon, who has been recognized with the prestigious national award, which is touted as the nation's highest honor for math and science educators.

While still a student at Carroll College, McMahon student taught at Jefferson High in 1986, and after more than two decades as an educator, she said her career has come full circle.

"Everything I've done in my career, I feel like it's all come together," McMahon said about receiving the award. "It just shows people have noticed."

After earning her degree, her family moved to Bozeman where she spent about 10 years raising her children. Once her youngest grew to school age, she launched a 21-year career as a math teacher at Bozeman High School.

But as the years moved along, McMahon's desire to return to her hometown of Helena grew.

"I felt bad when I'd see a kid in the hallway and didn't know their name," McMahon said about teaching in a larger metro-area high school.

After a handful of unsuccessful attempts at landing a job within Helena Public Schools, an opening to teach advanced placement calculus came up and she jumped at the chance.

"I was texting the whole family telling them I was coming home," she said.

McMahon spent two years at Helena High School before starting her position in Boulder. 

The McMahon clan is a tight-knit group. She grew up in a family consisting of 10 biological siblings and five foster siblings.

"Family was really instrumental for all of us," she said. "My biggest credit goes to my mom and dad."

Sitting through one of her classes, it is easy to see that familial relationship between the students and her.

"I love high school kids; I love their sass," McMahon said. "I just want to be a positive difference in these kids' lives."

One of the benefits to come from the award, aside from the $10,000 cash prize, was a newfound confidence in her work.

"It helped me become more confident and to try new things in my classroom," she said.

Jefferson High School Principal Mike Moodry said he greatly appreciates that about her.

"She is able to force herself into uncomfortable situations to better the lives of these students," Moodry said. "I want our teachers to be risk-takers. We need people like her who are comfortable taking those risks."

Moodry pointed to McMahon's technical math class, a math course geared toward students heading for trade work post-graduation, as an example of her ability to take such risks and "think outside the box."

McMahon had never taught such a math class prior to this semester and felt at a loss as to what the curriculum should entail. She said that one night while reading a book about teaching, the idea of having those students shadow trade workers in the community as part of a quasi-internship came to her. It is a chance for the students to apply what they are learning in the real world. The administration was more than receptive to the idea.

"The minute I stop learning is the minute I stop growing as a teacher," McMahon said.

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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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