Frontier instructor named Biotechnology Teacher of the Year

  • Frontier Regional School science teacher Stacey Chapley was named the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation’s Biotechnology Teacher of the Year. Chapley was one of more than 200 teachers nominated across the state. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2021

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The lack of a dedicated biotechnology program at Frontier Regional School doesn’t stop Stacey Chapley from incorporating the discipline into her curriculum. It also didn’t stop her from being named Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation’s Biotechnology Teacher of the Year.

Named the Henri A. Termeer Educator Award, the honor “recognizes dedicated life sciences teachers from Massachusetts schools who mentor their students in answering and, more importantly, asking rich questions in the spirit of scientific excellence,” according to the organization’s website. More than 200 schools in the state had nominated teachers.

Chapley, who has been a science teacher for seven years, said she did not expect to win the award and it just so happened to fall on the same day she was celebrating her wedding anniversary.

“I was so surprised,” Chapley said while sitting in her classroom after school. “It was absolutely like, ‘What?!’”

Chapley teaches intro to biology, Advanced Placement (AP) biology, forensic science and a class called sci-tech, which relies on engineering and physics. Chapley said all her classes are designed to engage students with hands-on activities to pique their interest in science.

“My goal is to try and have an active classroom,” Chapley explained. “The kids do their homework, which kind of preps them with some of that vocabulary and background knowledge, and then they actually come in and we do modeling and labs based around the reading.”

She said she wants to share her love of learning with her students and she loves seeing the metaphorical light bulb go off in their heads.

“I get them all excited and it’s like, ‘Whether or not you like science, science is happening to you,’” Chapley said. “I love seeing those ‘aha’ moments.”

Chapley gave the example of protein folding in biology. Instead of showing an animation or reading about proteins changing shapes that are “hard to fathom,” the students are given a model that can be bent.

“We actually have models that the kids can bend and manipulate based on the rules of chemistry,” Chapley said. “It’s very kinesthetic and it’s easier for students to grasp and work through what is actually happening at such a microscopic level.”

Chapley has worked with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation in the past in seeking grants for lab equipment for more advanced study areas such PCR reactions, which is a method of copying DNA used in forensics.

She said the incorporation of lab experiments relating to real-world experiences are crucial in getting students excited for science.

“It gets kids into it, it definitely does,” Chapley said. “These are what real people do in their jobs and it’s not so theoretical to them.”

Even when students were remote or hybrid as a result of the pandemic, Chapley was determined to find a way to keep lab experiments in her curriculum. She sent home testing kits for her biotech students and even allowed small groups of students to come after school to work on more complex experiments.

“It wasn’t the ideal situation,” she said. “We did the best we could.”

Chapley said her goals for the future include expanding biotechnology opportunities for students while also working with more kids one-on-one for independent research.

“I’m excited with where we are and where we’ve been going,” Chapley said. “Our goal as a department is that everybody gets, no matter what teacher they have, exposure to using the biotech equipment.”

Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation instructor and curriculum specialist Whitney Hagins said in a prepared statement that the organization was looking for a teacher in Massachusetts who inspires students to wade into the field of biotechnology.

“We were specifically looking for teachers that had had a strong impact on bringing biotechnology to their students,” Hagins said in a statement. “The fact that Stacey was chosen when Frontier doesn’t have a biotech program or pathway speaks volumes about her dedication and the impact she has on her students and colleagues. Stacey embodies the concept of lifelong learner.”

Chapley was nominated for the Henri A. Termeer Educator Award by several of her Science Department colleagues, including Science Department Chair Kristin Dolcimascolo, who is an eighth-grade teacher.

Dolcimascolo said it wasn’t shocking to hear Chapley had won the award, noting that four people in the Science Department have nominated her over the past few years.

“It’s just incredible and I’m not surprised, but I’m so pleased she’s getting the recognition she deserves,” Dolcimascolo said. “She works so hard and she’s an amazing colleague.”

Dolcimascolo said Chapley has secured more than $8,000 worth of equipment through her relationship with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation, and she is cultivating a biotechnology program at Frontier.

“She designed our biotech course. Stacey made it happen from the ground up with her sheer passion,” Dolcimascolo said. “Her impact is greater than just her class. … She’s just incredible.”