Geri Auten: ESCAPE Teacher

Geri Auten has been teaching special education for 34 years, 17 as a classroom aide and 17 as a teacher.  She currently teaches the 4-6th grade special education class and is the longest tenured teacher at Tara Hills Elementary in Pinole.

Geri’s journey got off to a slow start as she dropped out of high school in the 10th grade where she grew up in Ontario, Canada.  She moved to the Bay Area without a high school degree.  Over the years and through perseverance, Geri got her Associates Degree at Contra Costa College, Bachelors at John F. Kennedy University, and teaching credential at Chapman University (now known as Brandman University).

When Geri started teaching, she didn’t teach much science in the classroom.  While she knew that science was important, Geri wasn’t able to make it come to life for her students.  She admits, “I never thought I’d get excited about science.” Most of her science teaching consisted of information that she got in the textbooks that she was provided and neither her nor her kids were engaged.

Geri found her passion for science through CRS's Exploring Science Collaboration at Pinole-family Elementaries (ESCAPE) partnership starting in the summer of 2015.  Through a summer intensive training and weekend workshops, Geri learned that teaching science is simple, and can be very exciting.  By developing hands-on lessons, Geri and her class have grown to love science.

In 2015 the UC Davis Master Gardeners helped renovate the Tara Hills garden and West County Digs helped provide the tools for its upkeep.  Geri's students became caretakers of the garden, spending time there every week getting hands-on science experiences.  They do their learning in the newly developed garden classroom where students learn lots about soil, compost, and erosion.  They also learn about seasons and make their own decisions on what plants they should grow for each time of the year.

To accommodate diverse learners, the garden has a special box for students to touch the plants—especially good for hands on learning and for students who are visually impaired.  This level of detail shows the importance of reaching every student with hands-on activities.

Geri's class doesn’t stop at science in the garden.  This year, they’ve also gotten a chance to work with magnets, explore engineering through marble rollercoasters, and learn metamorphosis while studying bugs.

One of Geri’s favorite outcomes of doing science is watching how students change based on what they learn.  For example, she loves seeing students eat salad after they have grown it in their garden.  Geri also loves when students share knowledge with one another, something that she models as she shares science activities with other teachers at school.

Geri enjoys growing plants, needlework, and reading.  She says that her favorite animal is the butterfly, because like her, they are “late bloomers.”  We are so inspired by Geri’s blooming science teaching.  Her story reminds us that science can be really fun and it’s never too late to pursue your passions.