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Sallie Senseney, UNC distinguished alumna, got her start at Ocracoke School

Sallie Senseney hikes in the Black Mountains. Photo courtesy of Sallie Senseney

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By Peter Vankevich

Sallie Senseney, a tenth-grade science teacher at her alma mater, Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville, on Oct. 5 received the Outstanding Young Alumna Award from UNC Chapel Hill.

Senseney, whose full name is Sara-Elizabeth Caroline, is the daughter of David and the late Sherrill Senseney.

Senseney went to Ocracoke School until she was 7 when her parents, who both taught at Ocracoke School for 22 years, took teaching positions at Arthur Morgan School in Burnsville, which is 35 miles outside of Asheville and in Yancey County.

“Sallie Senseney is a phenomenal and gifted teacher who epitomizes the classroom ‘it’ factor,” says the description of her talents in the award ceremony program.

Several years during Senseney’s tenure Mountain Heritage’s biology scores have been top ten statewide.

“I was definitely surprised,” she said about the good news. “I think it’s because teaching is a profession where you’re not recognized for the most part. No one gets into teaching for the glory, but it is certainly nice to have that work recognized every now and then.”

And teacher recognition inspires the students, she said

“I think that the main reason I appreciate the recognition is to let students know that it’s worth it to push yourself,” she said. “No matter what your path is when you’re done with school.”

Senseney graduated in 2010 with highest distinction from Chapel Hill, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and teaching credentials through the UNC-BEST program. She earned her Master of Biological Sciences degree from Clemson University in 2017.

Senseney has twice received Yancey County Schools Excellence in Teaching recognition. In 2018, she was Mountain Heritage High School’s Teacher of the Year.

She has served as science department chair and instructional coach and co-sponsors the school’s Ecology Club.

Earlier this year, Senseney won a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers, a five-year, $175,000 grant to improve Science Technology Engineering and Math throughout Yancey County Schools.

She will use the award to create an Innovation Lab at her school, strengthen science instruction by providing professional development to K-12 teachers throughout Yancey County schools, and integrate science teaching into the internship program at her school.

Sallie Senseney, fourth from right, with her science department colleagues and school administrators after receiving a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Photo by Alfred Mays.