Debbie Grashin of KIPP Columbus High was one of 10 educators honored nationwide.

For computer science and math teacher Debbie Grashin, it was never about the recognition—she just wanted her students to have an equal opportunity to succeed in life. Nevertheless, the 34-year-old KIPP Columbus High teacher was one of 10 national recipients of the first Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Awards, whose $50,000 prize package includes $25,000 for the school and another $25,000 in school supplies to benefit students. 

Grashin learned she won when KIPP Columbus’ school leader Alex Thanos delivered an Amazon swag box to her house June 2. “I think they were really looking to recognize teachers who really are making a difference in promoting skills in computer science, specifically promoting diversity and inclusion,” Grashin says. She learned of Amazon Future Engineer through the KIPP network and was among thousands who applied for the awards. The program aims to get students from underserved communities to try computer science.

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KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, is a national network of public charter schools that opened a middle school in Columbus in 2008, followed by a high school in 2016. Grashin moved back to Columbus from New York to help establish the high school, whose first class graduated this spring.

The KIPP schools focus on educating students from underserved communities and preparing them for success in college. “I liked the idea of being a part of something that was building and being able to work from the ground up,” Grashin says. “I liked their mission that they are creating a college prep-like school for students in communities where their local public school choice is just not a very good option for them.”

Grashin says if it weren’t for a computer science class she took in high school, she wouldn’t have thought about a career in the field; she was the only computer science major in her class at Yeshiva University – Stern College for Women, from which she graduated in 2008. She says she hopes to instill the same determination in her students, since female and minority students are very underrepresented in STEM. “I wanted my students to feel the same way so when they got to college, if they were the only [one], they never felt like they couldn’t do it,” Grashin says.

A shorter version of this story appears in “Parent Pulse” in our Summer 2020 issue.