Head of the class: Zionsville Middle School teacher named National Project Lead the Way Outstanding Teacher


By Chris Bavender

For 27 years, Terry Rowe has been a classroom fixture at Zionsville Middle School. Rowe was named National Project Lead The Way Outstanding Teacher for the 2021-22 school year. He was one of 79 teachers in the nation to be receive the honor.

“Being nominated for the award was a great honor. After teaching for 27 years, I continue to strive to become a better teacher every day,” Rowe said. “I still get chills down my back when a student has that ‘aha’ moment. Getting students to problem solve without just looking it up on Google and see them be proud of themselves is why I continue to do what I do.”

The goal of PLTW is to provide transformative learning experiences for pre-K through 12th-grade students and teachers across the U.S. Rowe was part of bringing the program to Zionsville Community Schools 10 years ago.

“It creates an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empowers students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive,” he said. “Most importantly, it gives them strategies to solve problems critically.”

The middle school’s PLTW program has been named a Distinguished Program for the past four years. The program was implemented four years ago at Zionsville Community High School. The program is utilized in different ways depending on the grade level.

At the elementary level, PLTW uses the Launch program, which teaches students STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, principles through project-based learning. At the fifth- through eighth-grade level, the Gateway curriculum is used to give students insight into what engineering and technology has to offer. In high school, students continue developing on an engineering pathway.

“PLTW curriculum changes about every five years to keep up with changing times in our society,” Rowe said. “This helps me keep fresh on what is going on in the world and in the industry for engineering.”

Zionsville Middle School principal Mitzi Macaluso said Rowe’s impact and that of the program are important.

“The critical-thinking skills, group work and design process skills that are fostered in PLTW can be used in many areas of course work for students,” Macaluso said. “The interest and excitement that Mr. Rowe instills in his students in middle school carries over to the high school, where there has been an increased demand for PLTW courses.”

As part of the PLTW program, students take field trips. The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted travel, but Rowe said three trips are already planned for the coming school year, including two to Seattle in October, with 60 seventh-grade PLTW students per trip.

“We will visit two Boeing facilities for private tours put on by former Zionsville students who are now Boeing engineers. They explain the path to becoming a Boeing engineer,” Rowe said. “We will visit Microsoft and learn about how they help special need students through technology. We will be going to The Museum of Flight, Century Link Field (and) University of Washington’s Aeronautical and Astronautics program.”

The third field trip will be nine days in Alaska for eighth-grade PLTW students. While there, they will teach STEM classes to indigenous people in Barrow, Alaska, meet with an engineer to learn about the Alaska pipeline and how it moves with earthquakes, travel to Valdez to learn about loading oil for shipment and visit a salmon farm to learn about migration.

It’s all part of making an impact on the lives of Rowe’s students.

“I love the profession I chose and give thanks every day I can continue to do what I enjoy,” he said. “Making a little change for the positive in all the student’s lives I have touched has made my life fulfilling.”

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Zionsville Middle School teacher Terry Rowe works with, from left Mady Modesitt, Katie Comeford, Adriana Arias Diaz and Olivia Chadwick. (Photo by Rachel Greenberg)

Nominations from students

The impact Zionsville Middle School teacher Terry Rowe has made on his students through the years was obvious in one of the many letters submitted by students as part of the PLTW Teacher of the Year nomination process. Students Alexandra Gallaher, Kate Bowen and Madison Merrell co-wrote one of many letters that led to Rowe’s recognition.

“Our PLTW teacher, Mr. Rowe, is an amazing teacher and individual. He goes above and beyond in everything he does. When teaching in the classroom, Rowe instructs his class in a fun and entertaining way that makes lessons easy to remember. He is great at understanding each student’s academic needs and goals and helping them to reach them,” the letter stated. “He does this by listening to their thoughts and ideas and helping them set achievable stepping stones to work their way up to their goals.

He is very supportive and is willing to go to any game or event you have told him about. He is also very supportive of other teachers and PLTW instructors. If they need help with their lesson plans, he always has something up his sleeve to help them along. He also gives them great advice on how to teach while interacting with students. Overall Mr. Rowe is one of the best teachers I have ever had.”