This week’s #FeatureFriday highlights Upper School Science Department Manager and Science Teacher Julie Blanco, who has been at Far Hills for 26 years. Julie currently teaches sixth and eighth-grade science. Yesterday, our school celebrated Earth Day as part of our “54 to Explore” Campaign highlighting our expansive 54-acre campus. What better time than now to highlight one of our rockstar teachers in the science department. As spring continues to unfold on campus, you can find teachers and students taking advantage of our many outdoor spaces that encourage experiential learning. This spring, during science, our seventh graders will spend time at the pond. Students assess water quality by investigating both biotic and abiotic factors. This project provides students the opportunity to identify and count macroinvertebrates that live here on campus. In addition, students test for nitrogen and phosphorus levels, find the water’s pH and take the temperature.
Julie shares her favorite project, the most rewarding part about teaching, and more! Get to know Julie more below:
Q&A with Julie
What were your favorite aspects of our Earth Day Celebrations?
- Every day should be Earth Day, but I look at the day as a welcome reminder and an opportunity to underscore the importance of taking care of our planet. As a science educator, one of my goals is to teach students that their efforts, both big and small make a direct impact on our planet. For instance, using refillable water bottles, taking reusable bags to the supermarket, and not using disposable straws are three simple ways to cut back on single-use plastic. We are so fortunate to have these outdoor spaces that allow us to reach beyond the four walls of our building. We’re able to promote student-centered experiential learning with this perfect backdrop for Earth Day and sustainability lessons. I thought it was fantastic that all students, faculty, and staff took home reusable tote bags made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles to help reduce their household’s use of single-use plastic bags.
Favorite project you do with the students and why?
- The sixth-grade eye dissection is my all-time favorite. The structure of the cow eye that we use is very similar to the human eye. Students can literally take it apart and see the cornea, sclera, iris, lens, and retina. Cows have a reflective layer on the back of their eyeball called the tapetum. (It is an amazing opalesque blue color. I tell my students that if there was a way to preserve the tapetum, we could make beautiful jewelry out of it.) Once students discover this structure, they understand why the eyes of cats, dogs, and deer have the ability to glow at night.
What do you find is the most rewarding part about teaching?
- A few months ago, I was here after school on a Friday when Mrs. Yu was out in the hallway with a prospective family giving a tour. When I looked up at the doorway, I saw three masked faces, Mrs. Yu and two parents. As I walked toward my classroom door to greet them, I heard the man’s voice, “Mrs. Blanco?” he said. “TONY?” I asked. It turned out that I taught Tony my very first year at Far Hills. He was in my 8th-grade math class, which consisted of five boys. I don’t think he would mind me saying that math was their least favorite subject. It turns out Tony and his wife were touring Far Hills for their daughter. (how old am I?????) He informed me that he now works in finance. Years later, it is rewarding to see former students. It’s not often that teachers get to see how their students “turn out.”
What have you learned from your students?
- Things don’t always go as planned...In each class, I have an agenda that I project on the board. Some days we get through the agenda, and on the days we don’t, I have to remember that it is not the end of the world. Sometimes students need more practice and time to process. It would be counterproductive just to forge ahead. I respect that and thank my students who speak up when they need more time or one more example.
- You are never too old to learn. Having a class with students sitting in front of you and virtual learners online is more challenging than I ever imagined. I found myself apologizing extensively one class early in the year because it took several minutes for me to place the owl camera in just the right spot, adjust the volume, so those online weren’t getting an echo, get the touchscreen to work on the whiteboard, orient my paper, so it wasn’t projecting backward, cast to the correct room and make sure I “made a copy for each student” for the activity posted on Google Classroom. One of my students raised her hand and said, “It’s ok, Mrs. Blanco, you are doing the best you can.” I will always remember that. She was right. Not only am I the teacher, but I am also a lifelong learner. I learn a lot from my students, especially when it comes to technology.
What teams have you coached?
- I have coached volleyball and cross country.
Are you able to discuss the uniqueness of being a parent to Far Hills Alum and being employed here?
- Both of my boys are just good human beings. They are empathetic, kind, honest, and responsible. My youngest recently took on some leadership roles in high school, and I think it all goes back to the Far Hills pillars that students at Far Hills embody and learn in and out of the classroom.