The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation awarded the eighth annual James C. Kapteyn Prize to William Fenton for his outstanding work as a teacher of physics and astronomy, coach, and dorm head at Hotchkiss. 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 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.
The award was established in 2009 in honor of the late James C. Kapteyn, a beloved teacher at Deerfield Academy. It is awarded to a high school educator who exemplifies excellence in "whole child teaching," serving in multiple capacities within a public or private school community. Applicants must first be nominated by their principal or head of school.
Over the last decade, Fenton has enhanced the science department at the Hotchkiss School. In 2008, he created a robotics elective and robotics club, both of which reach full enrollment capacity every year. He redesigned the ninth-grade science curriculum to provide skill-based learning methods that push students to attain a deeper understanding of the material, and he expanded the number of AP physics courses offered from one to five, due to popular demand. Fenton was also instrumental in the development of a new observatory on campus. In 2015, he and one of his students attended the American Association of Physics Teachers' conference to present an app they developed that students can use to determine the speed of sound.
Outside the classroom, Fenton is the junior varsity volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee coach, and he 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. Through the astronomy club, which he currently advises, he and his students raised enough money to donate three telescopes to local libraries. He often hosts public star-gazing sessions, and he organized a school-wide event to observe the lunar eclipse last September.
"Bill has dedicated his life to serving his students," wrote Head of School Peter O'Neill 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 degree in physics from Weber State University in Ogden, UT. He began pursuing a Ph.D. in astronomy at Dartmouth College, then decided he preferred teaching to researching. Fenton continues to indulge in his passion for astronomy, 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."