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HS teacher brightens future for SAGE students by sharing love of science

HS science teacher Heidi Schatz (left) with her SAGE Academy students.
Heidi Schatz

Heidi Schatz wanted to go to medical school. She got top grades at the University of Minnesota, and even took the MCAT exam, but when it came down to applying she realized medicine was not the career for her. "Blood and needles are not my thing, and I get very emotionally attached to people," she says. With her extensive science knowledge and love of helping people, Schatz could think of no better way to use her skills than to become a high school science teacher.

Fast-forward several years, and Schatz is now a science teacher at the SAGE Academy in Brooklyn Park, MN. She loves her job, especially the environment at SAGE. "I did student teaching at one of the largest high schools in Minnesota." says Schatz, "Kids would show up every day, take notes, and just wait for you to say something so they could write it down. It was boring [for me], and not challenging. I could basically read directly from the textbook." SAGE Academy attracts a different kind of student. A public charter school, education at SAGE is focused on independent research projects, leadership, and encouraging life-long learning. Daily schedules are half directed instruction and half project-based research. Schatz enjoys the smaller size of the school and the personal connection she makes with her students. She tries to get the students interested in her subject by taking fun, non-traditional approaches, like her "wacky science" class. During this class, Schatz shows YouTube videos of crazy experiments, bungee jumping, and other science-related material. Once her students realize that planning a bungee jump requires knowledge of physics, Schatz says they start to connect with science on a more personal level. "They think, oh, I could be someone who figures out if that's possible! I'm definitely turning on a few minds to science."

Schatz's students come from a background where they've consistently been told they can't do science. To them, "science is for the rich kids, the white kids," Schatz says. "They've never seen someone in their family or society who came from a background like theirs and succeeded in science. It's a hard barrier to break through." Still, she feels like her strong love of the subject and creative approach to teaching is slowly starting to change that. After three years at SAGE, some of her former students still keep in touch. Her students tell her that she's had an impact on their lives, and Schatz takes pride in watching them graduate and succeed. "It's an emotional experience to see someone succeed after they've been told they're not going to, and to see how happy it makes them to prove everyone wrong."

Schatz plans to continue teaching at SAGE, where "it's more fun to come to work every day." She will continue to find new and creative ways to challenge her students, who, in turn, challenge her. She often discusses subjects where her students "have 17 other questions you never thought were related, but ARE related," and this curiosity and interest is one of her favorite things about teaching, constantly showing her a new side of her own love for science.