Science proves fruitful for Lacey teacher

Julie Wyatt’s fifth-grade students at Pleasant Glade Elementary School weren’t surprised to hear she was named the state’s 2013 Elementary Science Teacher of the Year.

“I think she’s cool,” said Parker Dunsmoor, 11.

“She’s a good teacher,” said Layalee Asmath, 11.

“I think she’s awesome and fun,” said Jezzalin Espinoza, 11.

Wyatt, 35, of Rochester, will receive a $500 check and statewide recognition as part of the award from the Washington Science Teachers Association.

She said she hasn’t heard much about what the award entails, but she knows the competition was tough.

“I was shocked at first,” Wyatt said. “It seems like when I teach, I don’t feel like I’m necessarily going above and beyond because that’s (what) I feel all teachers should be doing — it’s the standard.”

Wyatt has taught at the 600-student Lacey school for seven years.

She was born and raised in Olympia, and attended North Thurston Public Schools through fifth grade.

“Some of the teachers at this school were my teachers when I was little,” she said.

Wyatt attended Washington Middle School and Olympia High School, and graduated from Saint Martin’s University in Lacey with degrees in business administration and teaching with an emphasis in science and middle school mathematics.

She said she fell in love with science during her first science class, when she was in fifth grade.

“I love the thinking that’s involved and just the pondering and the questioning,” she said. “It is kind of like that open-ended learning experience, and for some kids it’s never-ending.”

Wyatt often dons a white lab coat for her classes. She organizes several science field trips a year, including ones where students conduct water-quality testing at various creeks, watch salmon spawn and explore exhibits at LOTT’s Water Education and Technology Science Center.

Eli Hernandez, 10, said Wyatt does a great job teaching complicated lessons “in a smooth, orderly fashion.” Among the concepts his class has studied this year: forces and motion, the phases of the moon, the scientific method and watershed stewardship.

“I like how it’s a hands-on type of class,” Hernandez said.

North Thurston science director Vicky Lamoreaux described Wyatt as an “exemplary” teacher with a strong passion for science education.

“She finds really creative ways to work with kids,” Lamoreaux said. “And she focuses on both the knowledge of science and kids doing science, which we call the practices of science. … They’re engaged as scientists, observing their world.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa—Pemberton