Amy Szczepanski is passionate about teaching, science, and music. She loves that being an educator allows her to combine two of these — while music is a significant part of her life as a hobby.
With experience teaching all branches of high school science, Ms. Szczepanski is delighted to join our team as Head Biology and Chemistry Teacher. She, like all of our faculty, is dedicated to hands-on learning and incorporating technology into the classroom in innovative ways.
In addition to strengthening a student’s academic abilities, Ms. Szczepanski believes it’s just as important for a teacher to care about a student’s social and emotional learning, and holistic development, which is why she’s excited by Franklin’s pastoral and academic care programs, as well as our skills curriculum.
Ms. Szczepanski is currently in her eighth year of teaching science at an independent school in Brooklyn, as she prepares for our opening this fall. We sat down with her to learn more about her background, teaching perspectives, and journey to Franklin.
Tell us a bit about your path to teaching.
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and during high school, I was really involved in music, playing the flute and french horn, and my goal was to be a music major. When I went on to Wayne State University, I realized that music was more of a hobby and not what I wanted to do as a career. I also loved science and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science. At the time, I remember my dad saying, “I think you'd be a really good teacher.” My reaction was that’s not my path! Then during my senior year, I was teaching a supplemental instruction class and one of my students said, “You’d be a really good teacher, do you think you want to do that?” I said no because I was determined to obtain a PhD in biology. However, after discovering a master's teaching program at Wayne State in which grad students could attend tuition-free after teaching at a high-needs school for three years, I decided to go for it.
From day one of the program, I realized that my dad and student were right. I realized I did really want to be a teacher. After receiving my MA, I began teaching science in a suburb of Detroit. I taught there for three years before moving to New York City for a new adventure. I worked at a Brooklyn charter school for a little while and then at Packer Collegiate — and now to Franklin in Jersey City!
How has your career path led to Franklin?
My teaching career has not been linear, as I worked in several types of schools. I started at a public school and loved it – I learned so much. Then I worked in a charter school, followed by another kind of independent school. Each environment was unique, but the consistent realization was that I really enjoyed teaching science and working with teenagers. I've had all these different teaching experiences and developed an understanding of how to create a learning environment that is personalized to a variety of students, which is what I hope to do at Franklin.
What do you love most about teaching different branches of science?
Biology has always been my passion. Being able to take content that I think is really cool and really interesting and bring that to students is one of my favorite things about teaching biology.
I think of environmental science as an off-branch of biology. I'm also really passionate about ecology, in particular — plants, animals, water quality, environmental issues — and how it connects to and impacts a place like Jersey City. I also feel that environmental science is one of the most accessible classes. Of course, if you move up the ladder, you'll need to know more, but anyone can go outside and see a tree, the shape of its leaves, and how those leaves turn yellow in the fall. It's really easy to access, whereas we can’t see atoms when studying chemistry, so I tap into my love of teaching to bring that subject matter to life for students.
Please share your thoughts about experiential learning and integrating technology into the classroom.
As a teacher, it is important to create meaningful experiences in which students can learn and look back on rather than limiting our focus just to the classroom. For example, I want them to remember the time that we went to a waterfront to test water for levels of dissolved oxygen. Then in a few months or years when at the beach, they’ll know that dissolved oxygen is higher when water is moving faster and know that’s true of high waves they’re seeing crash into the shore.
As technology is going to be used in one form or another in every job that students choose, whether they become a music major or data scientist, they're going to be grappling with how to use technology to gather information and analyze data to produce a logical, reasonable outcome. Incorporating that into the classroom really makes for a better reflection of what they're going to be doing in their day-to-day life at work, so it’s essential that we utilize technology as a learning tool not only in science classes, but whenever we can in all other classes.
Tell us about your passion for music!
I started as a flute player and really enjoyed it. Then my high school band director said that the band needed a French horn player because we didn’t have one, I originally thought it was too hard to play and didn’t consider it. But when I realized that I could have a few solo opportunities, I signed up! It opened up a lot of interesting doors for me in college because there were so few french horn players. Even though I wasn't a music major, I could still take music major classes. I also had the wonderful opportunity to play in the World Symphony because they needed musicians. Now, I play the French horn in a community band in Brooklyn and sometimes get together with fellow teachers to play as well. Music will always be a central part of my life.
What are you most excited about for Franklin’s launch?
I'm excited about a lot of different things! I'm looking forward to getting to know my fellow faculty and students on a deep level and seeing the school grow and develop from day one. It’s so cool to be part of the creation of this new and visionary model of education. I'm also excited to see the potential for the Franklin skills curriculum, which is going to be a game-changer for a lot of teachers and how their classes run. Additionally, students will also have the unique opportunity to help shape the School as the first graduates of Franklin. We all will build this exciting new school together.
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