2012-01-26 / Youth


A lot of help from our friends

JILL SMITH JILL SMITH Being an effective teacher in a public school these days requires a variety of resources and skills.

It is no longer sufficient to have content knowledge and disseminate it. We must have an understanding of these young people as they mature in a highly digital world. We must be aware of learning styles and developmentally appropriate methods. We must cajole our students into learning more, and comprehending at a deeper level, as the requirements for passing standardized assessments increase concurrently with the requirements for graduation. We must effectively communicate with parents, community members, administrators and specialists.

But most important, every school day we need to show up ready to look those young people in the eye and deliver a message, one that will get their attention and hang onto it for almost an entire hour.

Meanwhile, the topic at hand may not exactly be what they want to hear about. What 14-year-old wants to hear about cellular transport when there is a Facebook drama unfolding? Maybe a few, but certainly not most. Lucky for me, I have a couple of out-of-the-ordinary resources that help me to achieve the objective. They are the Port Aransas Education Foundation (PAEF) and The University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI).

The PAEF and I came to Port Aransas ISD at the same time. I was one of a few who applied for and received a grant that first year and I have applied for grants almost every year since.

I have received grants for workshops that increase my knowledge base, software programs for student support in biology, chemistry and physics, digital microscopes and international collaboration programs in which my students interacted with students in many other countries, including Japan, Israel, Kenya and others. I am looking forward to submitting another grant proposal this year.

My first experience with UTMSI as a resource for educators was before I was a district employee. I student taught with Brian Cummings in the spring of 2005 and he was involved with the GK-12 program in which graduate students from UTMSI came into the classroom on a regular basis. I was intrigued by the concept and knew I wanted in from the moment I accepted a position at Port Aransas High School.

My wish came true in 2008 when I became officially involved with the program. I have received hundreds of educational hours in this program. I have met and collaborated with dozens of graduate students, both from UT-Austin and UTMSI. These encounters help me to stay tuned in to current research topics, which I can share with my students.

The GK-12 grad student “fellows” are young and hip and cool. They surf and fish, play softball and coach soccer. They have access to resources that I don’t. They are not me. They are different and something of a treat for the students.

UTMSI has more to offer than the GK-12 program. I have been involved in numerous workshops funded by the university or grants that they have received. Most recently, I participated in a B-WET grant (Bay-Watershed Education and Training). This grant has afforded numerous field trips for my students on the UTMSI research vessel Katy and to the Fennessey Ranch between Bayside and Refugio.

This year, my pre-AP biology students have conducted a longitudinal study in which we have collected data on water quality parameters, the nutrients phosphate and nitrate, and flora and fauna. We collected this data from three different water sources within the ranch: The Mission River, a marsh and an artesian well. We have one more trip to take to collect data, and then we will analyze it, complete with graphs as we look for patterns of population dynamics that respond to seasonal changes.

In addition, I may have the opportunity to share our methods and results at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Anchorage this June.

My most sincere appreciation goes to the PAEF and UTMSI. To PAEF’s visionary founders, every board member who has ever served and every member of the community who has ever donated, I send thanks on behalf of my students past, present and future. To UTMSI, the grant writers and principal investigators, my amazing fellows who managed to be responsible and productive while staying cool and hip, the boat captains and naturalists, the cook and the mechanics, we thank you.

These two institutions truly do contribute to making PAISD an exceptional district in ways that cannot, and will not ever, be measured by standardized tests.


Jill Smith teaches science at Port Aransas High School.

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