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This California teacher is a fun guy when it comes to (ahem) fungi.



A Side Gig Ready for Sautéing

This California teacher is a fun guy when it comes to (ahem) fungi.


Steve Bowen’s been teaching biology for 29 years, but he’s fostered a fungi fascination even longer. A mushroom gatherer since childhood, he now hunts them for commercial sale and also uses them to teach ecology to students at Leland High School in San Jose. 

“I bring in mushrooms, and we discuss their biology and multiple roles in ecology,” Bowen explains. “Sometimes I’ll even sauté them!” But they can’t taste all the mushrooms—consider the aptly named death cap. “The polypeptide in death caps shuts down the liver; I really detail the process with AP students,” he says. Since Bowen volunteers for the local poison control center, the hospital sometimes sends over mushrooms for immediate identification during class, to students’ delight.   

Many of Bowen’s students enter scientific fields, just as Bowen pursued his mushroom fascination after a teacher’s encouragement.

“My college microbiology teacher was also fascinated and got me identifying and picking mushrooms safely,” he says. In 1979, a friend told him that restaurants would buy gourmet mushrooms such as chanterelles and porcinis. Now he spends up to four hours daily in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, Oregon, and Colorado hunting mushrooms—whose sale supplements his teaching salary.

He relishes foraging, but the classroom is Bowen’s first love. “Mushrooms don’t give much feedback,” he chuckles. “I really love teaching.”

—NORA SHALAWAY

From Buses To Bluegrass

A band of Oregon ESPs fiddles around with that high, lonesome sound.

When not piloting their school buses through the streets of the Salem/Keizer School District, Ken Cartwright and his buddies navigate bluegrass favorites as The Emerald Valley Boys.

Cartwright, on guitar, mandolin, and vocals, became a bus driver in September 2005 at the urging of bandmate and veteran driver Clyde Clevenger. Clevenger’s wife Nikki plays bass and provides vocals. Banjo player and vocalist Donn Whitten joined the busing department earlier this year. Once Whitten was on board, the entire Emerald Valley Boys lineup comprised certified bus drivers—leading some to suggest the band should be called The Bus Boys and Girls. They’re happy with their name, but the group is mulling a bus-inspired song for the next album.

“Every time we have a social function, the staff will ask them to play,” says Michael Hawkins, the district’s assistant manager for transportation operations. They’ve performed at a few assemblies for elementary students, but Hawkins wants it to become a regular gig, highlighting
the importance of bus safety.

—ALAN J. McCOMBS

Forging a Different, Distinguished Path

Deafness inspires rather than deters this teacher. 

When she turned six, Maya Yamada of Ottowa, Canada, went deaf. Jump forward 32 years, and the teacher of deaf students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, has become one of only a handful of deaf teachers to earn prestigious National Board certification.
Certification came after a year of navigating the Board’s rigorous application process, interviews, and presentations. She did it all, getting some help on applications from a study partner who knew how to sign, and an interpreter who guided her through the interviews and presentations. She says she never let her deafness “create any obstacles or barriers.”

Yamada considers her deafness an opportunity to help others who cannot hear through teaching. “I knew it was my purpose in life,” she says.

She came to Eleanor Roosevelt High in 1996 and immediately created a sign language class and a dance company composed entirely of deaf students. Later, she organized a hearing-loss support group for students, parents, and staff, and trained faculty on deaf and hearing-impaired students’ needs. Adept at reading speech on others’ lips, she conducts her classes through a combination of speaking and signing, a mix she calls “total communication.”
Throughout her career, she has refused to call herself disabled. “I am an avid reader of emotional and spiritual growth,” she says. “I’m on a journey in life to live above and beyond.”  

—RICK DOCKSAI

WeirdWard.net

An Oklahoma teacher gets a unique tribute.

Some things border so closely on indescribable that you just have to see them yourself. Consider the tribute to former chemistry teacher Pat Ward, Oklahoma-Retired. Weirdward.net is the wackiest, yet most touching Web site homage to a chemistry teacher we’ve come across on the Internet. Make that the only Web site homage to a chemistry teacher we’ve come across. With more than 6,000 page views since its creation in January, the site is a word-of-mouth phenomenon.

Some of Ward’s former students conceived the idea after one was diagnosed with ALS and Lyme disease and the beloved teacher visited to cheer him up. Dana LeMoine and his siblings perused Ward’s trove of East Central High School memorabilia, thinking that a Web site dedicated to his classroom years was in order, not only to thank him for taking decades of students under his wing, but also to reunite all “Weird Ward” alums.

Now folks from across the country and as far as the Netherlands and Iraq are clicking in. They’re finding a site jammed with “Wardifact” photos and cartoons, “Wardisms,” and scans of every yearbook signature page Ward saved from 1960 to 1988. “Weird, ole’ buddy, you’re with me every day I step in front of my class,” writes Joe Matheson, now science department chair at Tulsa Memorial High School, in the site’s ever-lengthening guestbook.
Ward is humbled by all the attention. But he certainly isn’t hovering over a computer; in fact, he doesn’t even own one. On monthly visits to the LeMoine siblings, he just chats and sees who’s dropped by his site. 

—CYNTHIA KOPKOWSKI

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Published In

October, 2006