Mark Paricio is no stranger to praise and recognition.
The National Board Certified physics teacher from Smoky Hill High School has a long record of earning acclaim for his commitment to teaching. In 2013, for example, he received the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence, a prize that included a check for $10,000 to go toward science resources in his classroom. That same year, Paricio was among a small group of teachers and students to be selected to travel to a remote research station in Cherskiy, Russia to study Siberian artic systems.
But that impressive list of accomplishments couldn't fully prepare Paricio for his latest honor. Earlier this month, Paricio learned that he's a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Later this month, he'll travel to Washington D.C. to formally accept a citation signed by President Obama and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. The award, offered through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, recognizes outstanding teachers for their contributions to the teaching and learning of mathematics and science.
"We're ecstatic," he said, referring to his family's collective response.
The impressive prize will come after a grueling application process that's lasted nearly two years. Paricio says the award has already paid off in terms of making connections with other science teachers from Mexico and South America, payoffs that have come after an intense two years of hard work and waiting.
"It's very similar to the process you go through to become nationally board certified. It's an extremely long process of submitting essays and examples," said Paricio, who started submitting teaching units centered on circuits in 2013. "They call you and ask you for extra lessons that you do, what your philosophy is, what you do to teach students, how you show leadership in science education beyond your classroom."
Paricio's in-depth teaching philosophy has a lot to do with his roots at Smoky Hill. A 27-year veteran of the Cherry Creek School District, Patricio has been teaching science at Smoky Hill for more than a decade. What's more, he has strong familial ties to the school. Both of his children are Smoky Hill Buffaloes, and his wife, Cheryl Paricio, also teaches science at the school. Those strong ties to the larger community have helped Paricio hone a teaching style that's garnered recognition on a national level.
"I would say that Smoky Hill has always had supportive colleagues and supportive administrators who let us pursue excellence in a variety of different ways," Paricio said. "Smoky Hill is a family affair for us. We're at the school probably 70 hours a week between our jobs and our kids' events."
Those ties have also meant a close connection to the larger Smoky Hill community that goes beyond the classroom.
"I coached little league for a lot of the kids I have in class, or I was their scoutmaster," Paricio said. "It's exciting when you get involved in your community as a whole. When you know the students, it really makes you want to be as absolutely the best teacher that you can possibly be. You really care what happens to these kids."
Paricio's investment in his students has obviously made an impression on a large scale. But he hasn't let this latest round of recognition inflate his ego; Paricio still insists that he has a lot to learn.
"I'm the second-best teacher at my house," Paricio said. "Nobody gets to be better than the sum of their colleagues. In my case, that's really close to home."