May 3, 2003 - Eagle Herald: Burundi RPCV Educator Sparky Rosenberger exudes enthusiasm, energy in the classroom

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Burundi: The Peace Corps in Burundi: May 3, 2003 - Eagle Herald: Burundi RPCV Educator Sparky Rosenberger exudes enthusiasm, energy in the classroom

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Burundi RPCV Educator Sparky Rosenberger exudes enthusiasm, energy in the classroom

Burundi RPCV Educator Sparky Rosenberger exudes enthusiasm, energy in the classroom

Educator exudes enthusiasm, energy
Published Saturday, May 3, 2003 12:11:02 AM Central Time


EagleHerald senior staff writer

Hands-on learning takes on a different meaning in Sparky Rosenberger's environmental science classes. For students at St. Mary's School in Peshtigo, being in Sparky's class means hands-in, hands-around and hands-together learning.

And the most amazing thing is that the kids don't even know they are learning.

What they know is that being around Sparky is fun. She takes them on learning trips without ever leaving the classroom. But if she had her choice, every lesson would be outside.

Because, according to Sparky, that's where the action is.

In Sparky's class, students explore the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, from inside their "cocoons" of paper. They tap maple syrup and cook it down for syrup or sap tea, right in the woods near her home. They experiment to find just the right combination of Jell-O, glycerin and corn syrup, combined with the right tool, to make the biggest or longest-lasting bubble.

"I want to have some times where they just play," she said recently. "Some of the world's best discoveries came when someone was playing."

Her exciting journey with the students at St. Mary's School started after she visited there for the first time several years ago.

She was looking for a school for her children, Claire and Frederick, now 8 1/2 and 5 1/2.

"I walked into that school and loved it," Sparky said. She decided to send her children where the families and children all knew each other so well. "There's a stability in the staff and I love the families there. They all have the same concerns. I've never been at a school that has so much parental involvement."

But Sparky, who holds a biology degree with interests in environmental science and soils, saw that she also might be able to bring something to the school.

Prior to moving to the Marinette area after her husband, Robert, was hired by the Department of Natural Resources, Sparky had worked as a naturalist at River Edge Nature Center in Newburg, Wis. After Frederick's birth, she started a parenting class in Crivitz, but was not working outside her home.

She talked her way into teaching at the school -- for free -- as a supplement to its science program. Her mother and mother-in-law subsidized her salary for the first year, she said, and the second year, the students' parents got together and paid for her salary.

Next year, she's in the budget, said Frank Kotecki, school principal.

While she teaches one class on Wednesday and is there all day Friday, Kotecki said a little bit of Sparky goes a long way.

"She has a way of showing students different things and nature and how important they are to our lives," he said. "They've gained a better knowledge of why it is important that they think about weather and pollutants."

But keeping Sparky and the students in the classroom is a constant challenge, he admits.

"She wants to take the kids out of school all the time, and I have to remind her that they do have to be in class some of the time," he said.

Sparky brings a lot of props into the classroom when she has to stay inside, he said, and uses a very innovative approach to teaching. "She was in the Peace Corps, so she has a wealth of knowledge."

Sparky and Robert spent two years together in the Peace Corps, working with tribes in Burundi, Africa, to develop fish farms. While they lived in the same house, they worked in different provinces, she said, since the men of the tribe were more likely to listen to her if she was working with them alone.

In that culture, women tended to the children and the cooking, and men to the farming and gathering, she said.

Sparky, a diminutive woman, used her husband's height and strength to her advantage occasionally, she said, by having him visit her province and telling the tribespeople that he was tall and strong because of all the fish he ate.

The two still work together, carving out their own homestead on land along County Trunk X near Middle Inlet. They built a log home there, and raise pigs and chickens. They garden, preserve, hunt and fish and even make their own soap, Sparky said.

"We buy very little at the store," she said.

Sparky's appreciation of the wildlife around her is evident when spending time with her outdoors. During her interview with the EagleHerald, she pointed out woodpeckers carving out their nests in a nearby poplar tree. She identified a hawk swooping down in the field and up into a handy perch.

That night, she was going frogging, she said.

It's an annual event for her, participating in the frog count in Marinette County, but in the past few years, she's taken a few seventh- and eighth-graders with her. They visit 10 spots on different nights in April, May and July, and chart the activity at each site.

"The kids learn the calls and fill out the charts," she said. "One time, we even saw two meteors."

Her students have visited area falls, started a butterfly garden at the school, designed and painted the school's "Bug Bus," and tracked animals.

"We take four field trips a year, spending the morning one Friday with the first- and second-graders and the afternoon with the third- and fourth-graders," said Sparky. "The next week, I take out the fifth-, six-, seventh- and eighth-graders."

She's scrounged snowshoes for a winter hike. She has solicited free bags of composted manure from a local store for the butterfly garden. She says she bugs her friends and acquaintances with interesting land to let the children come there for field trips.

She even asked the kids to bring old junk to school to tear apart to construct new "inventions."

"She's such an enthusiastic adult," said Mary Kozak Krawczyk, mother of two St. Mary's students. "She takes an interest in all the grades, but especially the older grades, where they're ready to foster what they are learning."

Krawczyk said Sparky encourages the students to take an interest in the world around them, and she gears her lessons to the ages of the students to capture their attention.

After Sparky started at the school, "you could see the kids just starting to love science in a way not usual in a science class. She connects with the kids," Krawczyk said.

Dan Peterson, president of the St. Mary's School Board, said the board and the parents appreciate Sparky's enthusiasm and knowledge.

"She's a hands-on person, she wants to go out and be right with nature. If we let her, she'd be on a field trip every Tuesday."

He said anyone who spends time with Sparky takes away something. "I've never met a lady who could have a conversation with you on so many subjects," Peterson said. "She's a very intelligent person, especially when it comes to God's creatures."

Sparky was recently honored by the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society with the LeRoy Lintereur Environmental Award for her contributions to environmental education.

"She's a very deserving recipient," said Wendel Johnson, Audubon conservation committee chairman. "We're pleased we have someone like her in our community."

Sparky's approach to teaching has also caught the eye of other schools, said Kotecki, which are looking to model curriculum after her classes.

"She supplements our science program in a positive way," he said. "Providing that type of experience is important."

And Sparky, who has the energy and enthusiasm of 10 people, said she is looking at extending the ages of her students -- to teach adults about the environment. She is talking with UW-Marinette and NWTC about an adult ecology program, since she has often been told by adults who chaperone the students that they are learning, too.

But be assured that Sparky will never venture far from the kids who capture her heart. "Our two most important resources are water and our children," she said.

Some may add Sparky Rosenberger to that list.

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Story Source: Eagle Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Burundi; Secondary Education



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