Press Release: Physics and Astronomy Teacher William Fenton Wins $10,000 Kapteyn Prize

Sheffield, Mass. — Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation announced today that William Fenton has been awarded the eighth annual James C. Kapteyn Prize for his outstanding work as an instructor in physics and astronomy, coach and dorm head at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. The prize, which comes with a $10,000 award, was established to recognize high school teachers of exemplary character and integrity who have made a career commitment to teaching and who lead by example. This year, an additional grant of $2,000 will be awarded to the school in Fenton’s honor.

Colleagues say that over the last decade, Fenton has transformed the science department at the Hotchkiss School. In 2008, he created a robotics elective and robotics club, both of which reach full capacity every year. He helped redesign the ninth grade science curriculum to provide skills-based learning methods that push students to attain a deeper understanding of the material, and he started the advanced placement Physics I course, which has grown to five sections led by three teachers. Fenton was instrumental in the development of a new observatory on campus, and in 2015 he and one of his students attended the American Association of Physics Teachers’ national conference to present an iPhone app they developed that can be used in the classroom to help students determine the speed of sound.

Outside the classroom, Fenton serves as junior varsity volleyball and ultimate Frisbee coach and plays rhythm guitar in the faculty band. For years, he advised the science club, in which students designed underwater, remotely operated vehicles and “smart” radiator covers, and through the astronomy club, which he currently advises, he and his students raised money to donate three telescopes to local libraries. He often hosts star-gazing sessions that are open to the Hotchkiss community, and helped organize a school-wide event to watch a lunar eclipse last September.  

“Bill has dedicated his life to serving his students,” wrote Peter O’Neill, head of school, in a letter nominating Fenton for the award. “His passion and enthusiasm for all aspects of school life have made him an invaluable member of the Hotchkiss community.”

Fenton earned his bachelor’s of science degree in physics from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. He moved on to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy at Dartmouth College before deciding he preferred teaching to research. Fenton continues to indulge in his passions, spending summers at national parks in Utah as a “star ranger.”  

“My favorite memories of college are the late nights I spent in a chalk-filled study room, thinking about hard problems,” Fenton wrote in his application. “As a teacher, I have the opportunity to help my students think about hard problems, and I find that the most fun.”

The James C. Kapteyn Endowment Fund was established at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in 2009 to honor the memory of beloved teacher Jamie Kapteyn, who, for over two decades, taught English and coached soccer and lacrosse at Deerfield Academy, The Williston Northampton School and Cushing Academy. The primary mission of the fund is to honor its namesake’s memory by recognizing and rewarding extraordinary educators.

A list of previous Kapteyn Prize recipients can be found at www.berkshiretaconic.org/KapteynPrize. For more information, please contact grants@berkshiretaconic.org






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