WESTON - Kudos are blooming in Heather Combs' fourth-grade classroom at Weston Intermediate School.

The teacher hands her students flowering compliments throughout the day, and the pupils hand them right back.

Combs praises her students by name for everything from simply sitting still to working through an intricate math problem. It's clear her pride in them is returned.

Her peers are impressed as well. Combs was one of 95 elementary school teachers across the nation to receive the Presidential Award for Mathematics and Science Teaching. It's administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation and has been compared with the Nobel Prize for teachers.

Jodi Harnden, a science teacher at Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton and the mother of one of Combs' students, nominated her for the honor. She and a Clackamas teacher were the only winners from Oregon.

Combs and her mother, Mary, of Pendleton, enjoyed an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the ceremonies. They received a citation signed by President George Bush, gifts from program sponsors and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

The award winners also heard speakers like Dr. James Garvin, the chief scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Christian Samper, the director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History; and John H. Marburger, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Executive Office of the President.

Later this year all of the award winners will travel to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to participate in the Disney Youth Education Series programs. Combs will get to go behind the scenes of the theme parks to examine and explore science, leadership, history and art.

As far as Combs' students are concerned, it's about time President Bush learned something they've known from the first day school started this year - their teacher is awesome.

"She's always happy," said 10-year-old Kris Manyrath. "She's nice and helpful."

"She comes up with really, really cool science projects," said Becca Betts, 10. Betts also praised the teacher's "Edible Math" lessons, which involve candy bars.

"She's excited all the time," said J'Shon Thompson, 10.

"She's really funny," added Rae Gilliam, 10. "She lets you do tons of projects in science."

"She makes learning a lot of fun," said Tessa Rachor, 9. "She really helps when you're having trouble figuring something out."

"She does fun stuff in science," said Evan Frank. He also admires her way of getting the attention of her students. Instead of ringing a bell, clapping her hands or raising her voice, Combs blows into a duck call.

"She's good at duck calls," Frank said. "She's had a lot of experience."

Combs has an award from the president, but inspiring her students is better than any award. She may be inspiring the next generation's award winner. Betts said that she has learned to like science and math this year, because of her teacher.

"I'm thinking I would like to be a teacher someday," Betts said. "A teacher like her, she's an awesome teacher, and anyone who met her would love her."

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