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Lutz receives chemistry teacher award

Prince Edward County High School (PECHS) chemistry teacher Dr. Gary Lutz was recently honored with the Franklin D. Kizer Distinguished High School Chemistry Teacher Award.

Gary Lutz

The award is given annually by the Virginia Section of the American Chemical Society to honor outstanding educators.

Originally a small-town boy from Southern Indiana, Lutz said he didn’t shine academically until taking chemistry, math and physics classes, which ignited a passion for learning in him and gave him newfound confidence.

“That’s what I try to instill in my students is this belief that you have no idea what you are capable of until you’ve pushed yourself some,” he said.

Compelled by this spark, Lutz decided to pursue a career in the field. He attended undergrad at the University of Southern Indiana and received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Lutz and his wife moved to Farmville 19 years ago from Richmond in order to take teaching positions at the university. Six years later, Lutz accepted a position at Prince Edward County Public Schools, where he still teaches today.

At PEHS, Lutz teaches chemistry to 10th-12th grade students and instructs physics classes as well. He said the Virginia Section of the American Chemical Society allows students the opportunity to compete in the Chemistry Olympiad, where students go beyond normal curriculum and study extra in order to take a specialized chemistry exam.

Schools and individual students are recognized through the Olympiad for their chemistry skills. Lutz said for the past five years, Prince Edward has received several awards and produced numerous top students in the competition.

Lutz added while he was honored to receive the Franklin D. Kizer award, his job comes with its own sense of accomplishment and acknowledgement.

“When I talk to parents of kids I’ve taught and they tell me their kid really enjoyed my class and got a lot out of it, that’s as rewarding as it gets.”

Currently, Lutz, like many other teachers, is working hard to prepare for the reopening of schools. Prince Edward, as with most local public schools, will be holding its first nine weeks of classes virtually.

Lutz said he was actually planning to retire in February before the pandemic occurred, but he regretted students not getting a true closure for the academic year. He asked to come back for one more year to finish things up in person, although he couldn’t predict schools would be online-only in the fall.

He said while he was nervous about the inability to have face-to-face interactions and in-person dialogue with students, he hopes his passion for the subject will still shine through.

He also hopes students will eventually be able to finish school this year in a normal classroom environment again.

As part of the award, Lutz will receive a plaque from the Virginia Section and a check for $300. PEHS will also receive $300 for science instruction materials.