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Wood Hill Middle School teacher Laura Stella receives her 2011 Massachusetts Amgen Award for Science Teaching Exellence.

A Wood Hill Middle School science teacher was honored with an award - and $5,000 - issued by California-based biotech company Amgen at a surprise ceremony in the school's media center Monday, April 25.

The reward Laura Stella received can be used in whatever way she chooses, but she said she already has plans for its use.

Stella is working on a Creative Currents unit in her classes, where students work hands-on with energy consumption and generation. Solar photovoltaic panels were recently added to the school and currently support the curriculum, and small wind turbines will be used at a later date, she said.

She wants her check to help bring another of the panels to the school, which cost around $8,000 to $9,000, she said.

"We're a hands-on exploratory learning school, and students learn best with hands-on learning," Stella said.

The school also received a matching check for $5,000 to be used on supplies and tools in the classroom.

Stella, a sixth grade science and math teacher at the school, received the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excelence (AASTE) for her interactive school curriculum and the impact she has on her students, according to Christopher Barr, a research operations senior manager at Amgen in Cambridge.

"Our main goal in prioritizing science education is to ensure that the next generation of scientists go in at an early age, and that's what Laura Stella does," Barr said. "She goes above and beyond the call of a science teacher."

Members of Stella's family were on hand for the surprise ceremony, as were Superintendent Marinel McGrath, School Committee members, Principal Patrick Bucco and Amgen representatives, who presented the award along with a large fruit basket and large $5,000 check made out to Stella.

Stella did not expect the award, though she has worked for a long time to receive it, she said.

"I'm surprised. I'm stunned," Stella said. "I'm really happy to be able to bring this to the school."

Bucco said he was proud of Stella for everything she's done with both science and math at the school.

"I've been impressed with Laura's ability to create, to grow, with her abilites as an educator but [she is able to] never be satisfied with where she is at," Bucco said. "It's an honor for her, but it is also great for her kids."

Amgen has research facilities across the country and will issue 34 AASTE awards this year, with four coming to teachers in Massachusetts out of an original pool of around 100 teachers seeking the award.

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For feedback on this story, or for other story-related inquiries, please email dluca@andovertownsman.com.

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