When you walk into Ken Bee’s classroom at French Prairie Middle School, you may hear the faint sound of a fan in a quiet mode in the background. You may walk by it and not even notice the fan standing in front of Mr. Bee’s desk. Well, it looks like a modern fan with no spinning blades, but in reality, it is a “COVID killing purifying machine,” as Bee explained it.

“The students will be here in the morning, and they will be eating breakfast,” he said. “I bought this for them to be safe. It has UV light, five layers of multi-protection, and an ionizer. It pulls the air in and kills viruses and other germs. It neutralizes the ions and then sends the air out.  If the top number is under 50, the air quality here is excellent. It will filter the air in this room twice per hour.”

Listening to Mr. Bee enthusiastically talk about the “COVID killing purifying machine” makes it evident that I was talking to a Science teacher. He was excited to explain how this machine worked and once he did, it made perfect sense. That is one thing Ken Bee is known for among his colleagues. He has a way of getting his students excited about science and really gets them involved.

The Oregon State University (OSU) Science and Math Investigating Learning Experiences (SMILE) Program recognized Mr. Bee this year with the Leadership and Service Award. It is a peer nomination from other teachers who participate in OSU’s SMILE program. Bee said it was a real honor for him to be selected by his colleagues for this annual award.  “I’m not big on bragging or getting awards, and I was shocked that I received it,” said Mr. Bee. “But, this one was really special to me because the SMILE Program opens students’ minds and gives them opportunities to think about college or different careers that they have never considered before.”

SMILE is a pre-college program at OSU aimed at helping students from low-income households who have the potential to be the first in their family to attend college. The program engages students from across the state in “STEM activities that incorporate art, design, and communication, and contribute to creative and innovative problem-solving. “It is totally an after-school program, so we can play, design, and experiment with Science related stuff,” said Mr. Bee. “It is nice that we have the freedom to do that because I can give them a project and tell them, ‘OK, work on this and see what you can figure out.  I want them to make mistakes.’”  Mr. Bee says that when students make mistakes working on their experimental science projects, they learn by figuring out what worked and what didn’t.

“Ken does an amazing job working with the kids in our club. He gets them excited about the areas of science and math that SMILE offers,” said WSD teacher Stacey Yelton.  “Ken has done amazing work with our SMILE students over the past six years, and I am honored to be his co-teacher in this program.”

While the program is geared towards helping students, Bee said SMILE also gives teachers “invaluable professional development and connections to other science and math teachers.”

“SMILE not only helps our underserved students gain valuable experiences, college-related connections, and confidence, it also helps teachers tremendously,” said Bee. “They educate us and provide us with new experiences, techniques, technology, curriculum, and materials that would be very difficult to get otherwise. We can test out new lessons in the SMILE clubs and then incorporate the successful strategies from those lessons into our classroom.” “Woodburn has been part of the OSU SMILE program for over 25 years, and I hope that we will always continue our partnership with them.”

Congratulations, Mr. Bee!