- Associated Press - Saturday, February 4, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Science and faith are compatible, even intertwined, in Helen Peyton’s classroom.

Peyton, 61, has taught science and math at St. Bernard Catholic School in Omaha for 40 years.

In her view, science and nature are revelations of God’s glory and power.

This year, she is the only teacher in Nebraska - one of 41 winners nationally - to receive the “Lead. Learn. Proclaim.” award from the National Catholic Educational Association.

The award honors exceptional ability, results, dedication and commitment to excellence, particularly teachers with a strong Catholic educational philosophy, the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2jIHNVo ) reported.

The award winners, chosen from more than 150,000 educators who teach in the nation’s Catholic elementary and secondary schools, will be recognized during the annual NCEA 2017 Convention and Expo in St. Louis in April.

Peyton said she has always loved science.

She fondly recalls staring up at the awesome starry skies of Rocky Mountain National Park on family trips to Colorado and getting out into nature on Girl Scout campouts.

Math, however, wasn’t always her forte.

She was one of those students who struggled with math. She would go to solve a problem on the blackboard and cry. But something clicked in junior high.

“It was like ‘boom’ I got it,” she said.

Looking back, she thinks maybe her brain just kicked into gear. Or maybe, she said, the difference could have been a teacher, Sister Carol at Pius X in Omaha. Peyton went to school there for first through eighth grades.

Peyton never knew the nun’s last name, but Sister Carol gave her confidence. The experience overcoming her own frustration gave her insight into the math struggles of her students, she said.

She went on to Lewis and Clark Junior High for ninth grade, Benson High for 10th, and Northwest High for 11th and 12th.

She got her Bachelor of Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Her dad, John Krzycki, was Catholic and Polish. His mother had a Polish prayer book so old it was held together with a rubber band, and she read from it every day. Her mom, Norma, was Norwegian and converted to Catholicism.

Peyton currently teaches math and science in sixth through eighth grades.

When her class is studying astronomy, she shows them a photograph of the Milky Way taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the picture, stars are so numerous they look like sugar spilled on the page.

“I want them to get the idea how grand and huge and enormous space is, because each of these could be one of our solar systems,” she said.

As huge as the solar system is, she tells kids, “God picked us.”

“Out of all of this, this huge grandeur, even though we’re just but a speck of dust, look how important we must be to Him,” Peyton said.

When you come from a Polish Catholic family, of course, you know the name Copernicus - the Polish scientist who came up with the theory of a sun-centered solar system.

It’s a point of pride for all Poles.

During the astronomy unit, the kids do research on the first astronomers, and Copernicus is always one they study.

“If they don’t bring up he was from Poland,” she said, “I do.”


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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