PULLMAN — Teacher Alice Boerner is known as the outdoor-loving “field trip queen” of Hoquiam’s Central Elementary School. She knows the secrets of getting a bus load of kids to learn, have fun, and behave. Now she’s on her own three-week educational outing, having left her coastal habitat for Eastern Washington’s rolling hills.
Boerner is the 2008 recipient of the Dr. Vitt and Mary Ferrucci Distinguished Educator in Math, Science and
Technology Education. The fellowship is funded by a $500,000 endowment established by WSU alumnus Vitt Ferrucci (’44), a retired Puyallup veterinarian. The honor includes a salaried, expense-paid, summer sabbatical at WSU’s College of Education in Pullman. Recipients have access to university resources as they tackle projects of their own choosing.
“Alice is a prime example of a teacher getting her students out of the box, getting them to connect with nature,” said Jim Williamson, a faculty member in WSU’s teacher preparation program. “We want to do anything we can to help her.”
Williamson is Boerner’s liaison on campus. Part of her time here will be spent developing mathematics activities for parents’ night—a sort of reverse field trip that takes adults into the classroom to learn about their children’s increasingly advanced lessons in math.
“It’s not just ‘2 plus 2 equals 4’ anymore,” Boerner said. “Our district has a math committee, and this will be an excellent way to help them get that message across.”
It’s no surprise that Boerner, who was named 2006 Elementary Science Teacher of the Year, is looking for ways to incorporate science into the math lessons. Her fourth-graders, as fifth-graders, have scored high on the state standardized test known as the WASL. More importantly, she said, the students have learned how to be good stewards of the Earth.
Boerner is a fourth-generation teacher who grew up collecting bugs and chasing snakes in her native Georgia. She shares her enthusiasm and expertise by teaching science education at Grays Harbor College/Washington State University Learning Center in Aberdeen, where she is an adjunct WSU faculty member.
Her tips for a successful field trip include: Assign adult chaperones to shepherd groups of five students; teach expectations for behavior, such as using “library voices” in a museum; bring plastic bags and wipes in case someone gets sick on the bus; and follow up the trip with students’ written reflections.
The Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is high on Boerner’s list of field trip sites, offering an environmental lesson that is not only local, but—because of its migratory birds— global as well. Some of Boerner’s time at WSU will be spent researching habitat for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Shorebird Sister Schools Program.
“The opportunity to be at WSU has afforded me the time—and teachers know how valuable time is—to develop my interest in estuaries in other parts of the world,” she said, noting the value of having access to the WSU libraries and experts. “The collaboration with Jim and others on the WSU faculty will enhance my ability to help my students become lifelong learners.”