Buchanan High School teacher Paul Lake named California High School Educator of the Year

The Fresno BeeMarch 6, 2014 

Paul Lake

SPECIAL TO THE BEE

As a college student, Paul Lake loved physics so much that when he went jogging or driving his car, he saw things like centripetal force and velocity happening, right before his eyes.

The former NASA intern, now a Buchanan High School science teacher with Clovis Unified School District, was enthralled by the thought the universe could be described through mathematics.

More than a quarter century later, Lake still loves physics -- and teaching it to his high school students.

"My vocation is my avocation," he said.

That passion was recognized when Lake was named California's High School Educator of the Year by the California League of High Schools.

In November, Lake won CLHS' Region 7 award -- named the top teacher from a pool of nominees from Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced and Tulare counties.

On Saturday, Lake was named California's top high school instructor, chosen from among 10 other regional winners statewide. The announcement was made before 700 educators at annual CLHS conference in Sacramento.

All told, Lake was chosen from among 70 nominees across the state, said Kelly Avants, spokeswoman for Clovis Unified.

Lake has been teaching for 26 years, and at Buchanan High School since its inception in the early 1990s. Along with physics, he is Buchanan's robotics team adviser. For 10 years, he's been helping students build large robots -- this year's weighs 130 pounds -- which students have operated in regional and international competitions.

But his robotics team, named the "Buchanan Bird Brains," learns a lot more than just engineering. Each year, they have to raise between $22,000 and $23,000 just to build their robot and register for competition, Lake said. The team also does things like marketing, filmmaking and art.

"They have a CEO of their team, a finance person, a fundraising person, directors and designers," said Ricci Ulrich, principal of Buchanan High. "They have to strategize and problem solve ... and come together as a team to get around obstacles. It's emulating I think what they will do through their life on the job and in their own daily life."

Lake also teaches students involved in the Energy and Environmental Technology Career Pathway, or the "Energy Academy" for short -- a series of courses students can take for a special designation on their high school diploma, Lake said.

"I like the interaction with students -- establishing relationships," Lake said of teaching. "When students enter high school they are children, and when they leave they are young adults. It's so much fun to be there for the transition."

Ulrich described Lake as "humorous, caring and intellectual."

"He's just a funny guy," Ulrich said. "He just makes this whole business fun -- for his kids, for his principal, for his parents, for everybody."

Lake once dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but said he realized he was too tall for the space suit -- towering at 6 foot 6 inches -- and that his real passion was teaching. He followed his grandmother and parents footsteps as a third-generation teacher.

And his favorite subject, of course: Physics.

"Physics gives us a way of describing precisely how energy flows through our bodies, our technology, the environment in general," Lake said. "We can create technology to take advantage of that understanding, that's how we can live in the world we live in. For me, I just think that's the coolest thing, and I've shared that with my students ...

"Even after teaching physics for 21 years -- I'm not bored with it. ... It's like being an evangelical or something. You just can't wait for others to see what you see."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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