BY MELANIE BUCK –
Educators come in all types with different personalities and teaching styles, but one Acorn educator is a step above the rest, making the classroom a fun place to be, and somewhere students want to be. Michelle McGee, Acorn’s ultimate science teacher, was born in a Naval hospital in Virginia to parents that graduated from Acorn, as did Michelle, and now she watches her own children walking the same halls she did growing up, bringing a bigger sense of pride to her already spirited personality.
She graduated from Acorn High School in 1992, and in 1997, she graduated from Southern Arkansas University with a BSE in Science Ed and Spanish Education. “I was going to be a public relations major but I started tutoring in college and it was so rewarding so I switched majors and I am glad I did.”
In the fall of 1997 she began her career at Acorn, making this her 20th year in teaching, and she couldn’t be more proud of where she landed. “We have a lot of families that just eat, breath, and live school. There is a lot of community involvement here,” she smiled. Her own family is quite involved as well. Michelle is married to Jaime McGee and together they have 11-year old Reed and 8-year old Clay, both students at Acorn.
After switching majors in college, she then had to decide what to teach. Growing up in a small district, she was touched by her own science teacher. “I had the most fabulous science teacher in school – Linda Whisenhunt. She was not afraid to try things. When I went to college, I couldn’t believe they weren’t holding up to her level so I started taking advanced science classes and thought, ‘this is what I want to do, the bigger stuff’,” Michelle explained. “I was very rewarded by making relationships with my professors. I still keep in touch with some of them.” In fact, her students have been able to become part of a bigger project because of her relationship with her college professors.
Michelle’s students are able to collaborate with SAU projects to help further research areas. “My students send them samples and then the college writes papers and books on the data that is collected. We contribute and the students get their names included in the research.” Acorn students collected camel crickets for one project for DNA testing on population studies. Currently, a professor is writing a book on parasites of Arkansas that students are collecting for. “We send him snakes and frogs. They get analyzed and recorded. We even send road kill,” laughed Michelle.
The whole experience is a learning process. The students don’t just collect the animals, they also have to record exactly where they picked it up, dead or alive, what the flora and fauna are like, time of day, etc. “One time a student brought in a dead snake and thinks it is a garden snake that turns out to be a cottonmouth. We have since done snake identification classes so that we don’t have anymore surprises.”
She also makes the classroom fun. Michelle teaches Environmental Science, Biology, Advance Biology, Physical Science, and Chemistry, and she tries to incorporate hands-on learning whenever possible. “Students learn best when they are doing exploratory projects,” she said.
Michelle also heads up the Afterschool Program with fellow teacher, Kim Posey. “Paulette Crawford has been a big help.” One of her students said, “Mrs. Posey is creative, silly, fun, and great at multi-tasking.”
For anyone that has been around her, there is no doubt that Michelle McGee is right where she is meant to be. “Teaching would be rewarding anywhere, but it’s awesome to be here. You know everybody and everybody’s kids. We are like family. We have a lot of collaboration because we see each other all the time on one small campus and our older teachers share their wisdom. Being a teacher is very rewarding, but there is honor in all work as long as you’re working.”