The Atlantic

How a Teacher in Rural Oklahoma Started a Science-Fair Dynasty

To get her students interested in STEM, Deborah Cornelison shows them how science projects can improve their community.
Source: Deborah Cornelison / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just five years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the third in our series. Read the first one here, and the second here.

On March 9, a few days after teachers in Oklahoma threatened to walk out to demand more funding for public schools, I was standing next to Deborah Cornelison, a veteran science teacher, in the courtyard of Byng Junior High School. At 11 a.m., the school’s only outdoor space was already hot, and a group of teens moved underneath a large beige canopy to catch some shade. The protective canvas—spread over

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