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Odessa science teacher named East Side’s best

Odessa’s Jeffery Wehr, who was featured in a 2008 Spokesman-Review story about the challenges of teaching math and science, has been named 2011 Teacher of the Year for Eastern Washington.

Wehr and 10 other regional finalists were honored recently by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn in Seattle. Of the 10, Jay Maebori, a former sports reporter who teaches language arts in Kent, Wash., was named state teacher of the year.

Wehr is the only science teacher at Odessa High School, where 87 percent of students met state standards for science in 2009 – far above the state average. Many go on to study science in college.

Students in his most advanced class conduct yearlong independent study, formulating and testing a hypothesis, analyzing the outcomes, then presenting their findings in journal articles and community presentations.

Typical was the project undertaken by student Jessica Heimbigner, developing lead-free X-ray shields, which she planned to test at Odessa Memorial Hospital.

“I was thinking of infusing polymers or rubber with some sort of metal,” Heimbigner, who credited Wehr for her love of science, said in the 2008 newspaper story. “But I’m now researching the element bismuth because that’s more cost-effective.”

Wehr has said he knows students are hooked on science when they voluntarily come to school early to work in the laboratory.