- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) - Every day is an adventure for students in Heidi Bernardi’s zoology class at Valparaiso High School, whether they are trekking through the school’s nature center, just off the football field, or dissecting squid in the school lab.

Out in the field, the student naturalists keep their eyes to the ground as they observe chipmunks, crickets, squirrels, turtles, toads, salamanders and all sorts of birds and insects in the nine-acre preserve. The wooded area is also home to oak, maple, elm and ash trees with a creek, and birds chirping along the trail.

Bernardi, who was a pre-vet major at Valparaiso University before she got into teaching nine years ago, said even if a student doesn’t go into a career that is animal- or science-centered, the zoology class gives them an appreciation for nature and makes them aware of their environment and the importance of taking care of the world.

“This class shows them the effects we have on animals with things as small as littering or polluting our waters, and what that can do to these animals,” she said. “One of the greatest things about teaching this class is that I learn, too. I find new information and that makes me excited about teaching the class and, in turn, make the students excited about learning.

Bernardi told The Times (https://bit.ly/1pasIrZ ) she has the best job in the world, one that is fun for her and the students, with constant learning, research and understanding of the environment.

“Work together,” Bernardi told her students. “Understand how (Charles) Darwin used the scientific process to develop the theory of evolution. Your goal today is to find four animals and write about them in your memo pad. Why does the animal look and behave the way it does? Look at the natural environment, describe what you see and feel and what you found.”

Sarah Martin, a junior, spotted a toad, camouflaged among several tree limbs.

“He kind of moved a little bit,” she said as she scooped him up in the palm of her hand. “He’s really, really dark. I like zoology. I like animals. I want to do something in this field when I’m older. I don’t know what exactly yet. I have been really excited to take this class since my freshman year.”

Amber Brown, a senior, walked down to the creek and observed turtles. “I am planning to become a lawyer. I’m enjoying this class so far and the different animals. I’m not so sure how much I’ll like dissecting animals,” she said.

Bernardi said students will dissect animals including squid, clams, a shark, pigeons, turtles and frogs. Many of those animals are preserved specimens that come from science catalogs. The students will do a dozen dissections over the school year, along with experiments with live jelly fish and flat worms.

“One of the really cool things we do with the squid dissection is to use the ink sac,” she said.

The squid’s ink is contained in a silvery sac (about .5 cm long). Once punctured, the students will use the ink to sign their names on their lab reports, Bernardi said.

Bernardi, who has been teaching zoology for four years, said some students often remind her that once the insides are taken out of the squid it can be cut up to make calamari. “But I tell them the seasoning and formaldehyde probably doesn’t go well together,” she said laughing.

Word of mouth has made the zoology class popular. Bernardi has 100 sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled, teaching four classes per day of 25 students each.

A former basketball player at Valparaiso University, Bernardi said when she decided against going to veterinary school, she was an athletic adviser at VU; then she got into high school basketball coaching, which led her to teaching.

When Bernardi is not out in the woods, she is running the high school credit-recovery program. Bernardi supervises about 25 students who need to earn credit to graduate from high school. The school’s credit-recovery program allows students a less traditional environment where they can work at their own pace with an online program.

“By the time kids reach high school, they are not always as excited about going to school,” she said. “Kids have so many distractions. The greatest thing about the zoology class is that kids get excited about learning. It’s impossible not to be excited about learning about the animal kingdom.”


Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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