JoAnn Schapp's love of teaching her students doesn't end when they graduate from Bishop Ryan High School in Minot. The veteran science teacher also teams up with Becky Dewitz, education coordinator at Minot's Roosevelt Park Zoo, to instruct other area teachers during two-day workshops that cover a lot more than just science.
Schapp grew up in the area and is particularly proud that it was her eighth-grade class that planted the three pine trees near the sign by South Prairie Elementary as a graduation project.
"When we got them, they were little," Schapp said. "So to watch the progress and watch how they grow, it's been neat."
Dan Feldner/MDN •
JoAnn Schapp shows off some rock displays in the back of her classroom at Bishop Ryan High School in Minot Wednesday afternoon. Schapp’s entire classroom is stuffed with science exhibits that cover everything from rocks to rockets.
After graduating from Minot High School, Schapp worked full-time graveyard shifts as an admitting clerk at St. Joseph's Hospital and took some classes at Minot State University during the day. After working at the hospital for six or seven years, Schapp decided to go back to school and get her teaching degree because she had quite a few relatives who were teachers.
This was a far cry from her original aspirations.
"When I went to school, I thought I was going to be in the Navy, computer tech. I was going to be the computer programmer in the Navy," she said with a laugh. "I didn't do that."
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After graduating from MSU, she went to El Paso, Texas, and taught for five years.
"And that's actually where I made the connection with teaching science, is they assigned me a science classroom. Because I didn't think I would be any good at science before that," she said. "And I found out I love it."
During the summers, Schapp would come back to North Dakota to help her parents on the farm, so she decided to move back permanently. Upon moving back, she met her husband, Fred, who farms near Granville, and had three boys: Wyatt, 13, and 12-year-old twins Ryan and Tanner.
She's now been teaching sixth,- seventh- and eighth-grade science at Bishop Ryan for the past 13 or 14 years. Even after close to 20 years of teaching, Schapp said she never gets tired of teaching her students new things.
"There is so much that you want to be able to do because I really like doing the experiments, the hands-on things with the kids," she said. "I don't have enough days in the year. I could easily go another two months just on the things that you don't get to do with the kids. I keep thinking if I ever get ambitious I should just run a summer science camp."
A project she has been ambitious enough to tackle is a program called HELP - Habitat Ecology Learning Program. Held in conjunction with Roosevelt Park Zoo, the two-day workshops focus on different biomes such as rainforests, wetlands, deserts and grasslands.
HELP was started several years ago when the Bronx Zoo in New York City hosted teachers and zoo directors from all over the nation in an educational conference. The program was designed for students in the upper elementary grades, but is flexible enough to be used in many different settings.
"We're actually doing one in February, it's called 'How Nature Works.' It takes bits and pieces from all of them and puts it into a program," Schapp said.
The courses at Roosevelt Park Zoo are for teachers who would like to further their learning and possibly bring what they've learned back into their own classroom. They are taught with the help of Dewitz, and because Schapp has a master's degree, the courses are also good for one college credit. Schapp originally started teaching the courses with Dana Pritschet, who used to be the education coordinator at the zoo and is its current director. Schapp said the zoo really got lucky when it hired Dewitz to fill the education coordinator position.
"Becky and I, I mean we have so much fun when we do the workshops. We work really well together, we really click," Schapp said. "So a lot of times we'll find that, you know, one will start a sentence and the other one will finish it."
The books used for these courses go far beyond simple science textbooks. They delve into complex issues that deal with society and politics, not just science.
"Where this differs from other science books is it also works not just for science, but for social studies, English, it's cross-curriculum," she said. "It'll highlight a group of people that live in that region and then talk about some of the conflicts they have.
"Like for the rainforest, the struggle that they have with, OK, they have to harvest some of the trees, but then, you know, what's the pros and cons of all of that?"
The courses actually encourage debates and allow students to role-play different people involved in the conflicts, such as government officials and tribal members.
"It really helps the kids see that it's not black and white, that there's so much involved in all of these issues. That's why we can't find a simple solution for things, because it's so complex," Schapp said. "So that's what I really like about these books, is you know, it gets into some of those complex issues."
Educators interested in learning more about the courses can call Becky Dewitz at the zoo at 857-4166 or Jo Ann Schapp at Bishop Ryan at 852-4004.
Schapp said it's not just science teachers who are interested in the program, which is usually taught once during the school year and once in the summer. Over the years she's had art and English teachers take courses as well.
Another perk of taking the course is the opportunity for teachers to take their classes to the zoo during the winter when things are slow for an educational field trip.
"Eventually what we'd like to see is teachers perceiving the zoo as, it's just not a summer place. We really would like to see schools using the zoo more during the winter, because that's when Becky ... actually has more time to do presentations and educational in-services with kids," Schapp said. "Because we've got that ed center there, and we really would like to see that used more by the schools in the winter."
Besides teaching the HELP courses, Schapp is also the Northwest North Dakota Science Teachers Association president, the regional director for Science Olympiad and is involved with the North Dakota Envirothon.
"If you want to make things available for students, then you need the adult that's going to be willing to volunteer the time," she said.
It's this commitment to her students, both young and old, that shows Schapp is just as excited to teach now as she was when she broke into education almost 20 years ago. Schapp loves learning so much she would take classes to expand her own knowledge every summer for the rest of her life if she could, just to have the opportunity to share that knowledge with other teachers and students.
"When it clicks, when a kid really gets it, you can see it click, that 'Oh!'" she said. "That's the moment you really (live for)."