Upside down, hands up, glee on her face, Tosin Adetoro soared above her students in an F/A-18 fighter jet. The teacher at Oak Street Elementary School in Falls Church had been recognized for excellence in teaching and her outreach efforts in the STEAM field (short for science, technology, engineering, art, and math). The award: a flight with the Blue Angels at the 2020 Joint Base Andrews Air Show. “I hate roller coasters and things that move fast. But I told my students, ‘I had to be a risk-taker just like you,’” laughs Adetoro. “And it was the best experience ever.”
Oak Street is a Primary Years International Baccalaureate School, a program that focuses on inquiry-based learning. Adetoro models that philosophy as she guides 500 students in their weekly STEAM classes. The lessons are hands-on, whether it’s rocketry, coding, or robotics. While she only sees them once a week, she knows every student’s name, and they call her Ms. Awesome.
Adetoro’s passion for science is contagious, according to her fellow teachers, and they cite her creativity, colorful clothing, and excitement for learning. “Science is already a boring and challenging concept for some, so I have to sprinkle pizazz on it,” Adetoro says. “It may take me all year to wow that one student in the back corner, but we’re going to work on it.”
Challenges are embedded in her lesson plans, like when she adapted a high school experiment and had fifth graders build hot air balloons at home during the pandemic. Adetoro showed that Oak Street students could manage the task. She stresses that it’s OK to fail, and in science and technology, failing is part of the process.
Adetoro teaches third through fifth graders and celebrates every step of their elementary school journey. To demonstrate the impact of her classroom lessons, Adetoro founded STEAM Night, and the event’s popularity is undeniable. In the lead up to STEAM Night, she empowers her students to develop independent projects and present them to the Falls Church business community.
“As a parent of two children who she has taught, I can confidently say that her enthusiasm for teaching and learning is infectious,” says Chrissy Henderson. “She is a true role model.”
Adetoro also focuses on mentoring underrepresented populations to pursue STEAM fields. She was often the only Black woman in her college classes and workplace, which is why she strives to be an example today. “I push myself a little more to make sure that these groups don’t miss out,” Adetoro says.
What’s next for Ms. Awesome? “I will do anything I can to get out there and challenge myself,” she says. Adetoro also wants her students to be risk-takers, whether they’re launching a hot air balloon or analyzing water filters. “The STEAM field is limitless,” she says with enthusiasm. Aboard a Blue Angel, with a CNN camera aimed at her helmeted face, Adetoro showed us what limitless looks like.
Feature image by Amie Otto