Growing up near Niagara Falls, Kate Belin never pictured herself impacting lives in the Bronx, but as a teacher her calling brought her to the borough nearly two decades ago and she hasn’t looked back.
Belin has taught mathematics at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, 1021 Jennings St., for the past 17 years. In October, her excellence in the classroom was recognized as she was a recipient of the Math for America (MƒA) Muller Award for Professional Influence in Education, which comes with a $20,000 prize and $5,000 for her school. MƒA is a NYC nonprofit organization that builds communities of mathematics and science teachers through innovative teacher fellowships.
She was selected for bringing her deep understanding of mathematics to all students and taking a leadership role to improve education and educational equity. Belin was honored during a virtual award ceremony on Oct. 18.
“I am beyond grateful to MƒA for this recognition and for providing a space for teachers to come together as learners and leaders,” Belin said. “This award also recognizes the work of the entire Fannie Lou community, which has always understood that teaching is political. We aren’t simply teaching subjects. We are teaching to fight injustices. Our job is to be activists and organizers in collaboration with our students — to mobilize youth for any issues that exist in their community, country, or world, and work together to make it better.”
Belin, 39, grew up near Niagara Falls and always loved numbers. She told the Bronx Times that her friends always came to her when they needed help with math. Her aunt Mary, who was a teacher, often took her to school with her when she was young and it was there that she first got her taste for the classroom.
“I was kind of in awe seeing her connect with her students,” she said.
Her father, Rick, who Belin described as “analytical,” passed down his love of math to her. Belin studied math at Bard College and had hoped to land a job in that field. During her time at Bard, Belin realized that many people hated math class, but she decided if she were to become a teacher, her goal would be to make it fun and relatable.
Belin earned her bachelor’s of arts in mathematics in 2004 and a master’s of art in teaching in 2005 at Bard College and has been an adjunct professor at City College of New York, Bard College and the Bard Prison Initiative. After college she had an interview at Fannie Lou Hamer in Soundview and the rest is history. Since then, the Boogie Down has become her second home.
“I knew as soon as I got there that I wasn’t leaving,” she said. “I really just wanted to be a great teacher.”
During her first few years, Belin knew she had to make a good impression, so she used real life problems to show her students how math applies. For example, she takes pictures of things in the neighborhood near the school in order to discuss angles and shapes and students learn how math relates to them.
Now in her 17th year, she is quite close with the students and couldn’t ask for a better job.
“The school is really just incredible,” she said. “I don’t think there’s another place like it. They (her students) keep me connected and inspired.”
The MƒA award is not the first time Belin has been recognized for her dedication to the classroom. She was a recipient of the 2011 Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science in Mathematics and was a Fulbright Distinguished Awards Teaching Fellow to Botswana in 2016. Belin is also a national teacher trainer for the Algebra Project and is working to organize teacher voices.
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.