Please take your seat, Mr. Phelps

IB Coordinator takes on IB Biology course from a student's perspective

Madison Geering, News Editor

Among the various seniors situated in International Baccalaureate Biology teacher Michelle Mardahl-Dumesnil, Ph.D.’s, fifth period classroom sat IB Coordinator Jared Phelps, diligently completing a biology worksheet. On Sept. 4, Phelps experienced his first day as a student taking the course.

Phelps, who was a student and IB Diploma recipient at Bonita Vista High School in 1997, has worked at BVH for eleven years. The first eight years of his career at the school were spent as an IB Math teacher and the most recent three years were spent in his current position as AP/IB Coordinator.

As a staff member and adult, Phelps could not officially take this course as a student; rather, he is “taking the role” of one To enroll in Mardahl-Dumesnil’s class, Phelps simply approached her.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’d love to be in your class and just be a student and take notes and to have a part of the IB experience with the kids. Can I do that?’” Phelps said. “She responded, ‘Yeah, go check out the book, here’s the homework packet, start working on this.’”

As someone who had several years of experience teaching in math, the first lesson, which pertained to math, was not as daunting to Phelps as it might have been for his teenage peers. On his second day, however, Phelps was pushed out of his comfort zone with a lesson strictly focused on biology.

“The first day was calm, smooth and easy, but the second day was really challenging. [Honestly], I don’t like biology, I’ll just come out and say it. I [never] liked the dissections. It just didn’t resonate with me,” Phelps said, “But I noticed that students learned a lot from Dr. Mardahl, so I thought it would be interesting to look at biology through a fresh lense and to get a new perspective on it.”

At the end of the week, Mardahl-Dumesnil assigned a group project in class entitled Cell Wars. Senior Ambre Decilap, also in the fifth period IB Biology course, called the project an “extended metaphor for a cell.” Each person was assigned with a different part of the cell to come up with a metaphor for. Then the students were expected to explain their metaphor and debate the opposing metaphors of their peers.

According to Mardahl-Dumesnil,  students, “really liked having [Phelps] on their team,” and “[Phelps] has a really positive influence.”

“I try not to be disruptive. I try as much as possible to really fit the role of a student which means that I raise my hand to ask questions [and] when there’s group work I do the group work. I’m trying my best to fit in while being awkward and twenty years older and a grown-up and IB Coordinator all at once,” Phelps said.

The positivity surrounding Phelps’ student role extends to the student perspective.

“[Having Phelps in class is] pleasant. He inspires me to work harder and is always a delight to be around.” Decilap said.

Phelps does not only want to fit into the classroom environment for the 6 weeks he will be taking the course; he wants to be a constant in the classroom.

“I hope that the students think that it’s commonplace that I walk into their classroom and that I’m just there. When there’s someone who walks into a classroom that you’ve never seen before, they seem out of place, I don’t want to be that [person],” Phelps said. “If there’s a person who is always coming in and out, it feels casual and normal.”

The frequency of Phelps’ presence in the classroom  is not unique to his current role as a student. As IB/AP Coordinator, Phelps often visits classrooms.

“[Phelps] comes to my classroom a lot because he gives announcements,” Mardahl-Dumesnil said. “It feels like he’s been a part of the class since the beginning of the year. He’s like our little guest.”

With a strong passion for the IB program, Phelps’ main goal is to better understand the student experience through his educational endeavor.

“Being a student [can make individuals] anxious and nervous. Getting the chance to reconnect with even a fraction of that experience gives me an appreciation of what students do and helps me to empathize with where they’re coming from and what that means,” Phelps said.

“[High school for me] was so long ago. I have no idea how nervous I was then and that’s a part of why I like to go back and learn.” Phelps said.

As IB/AP Coordinator Phelps has a more flexible schedule than other teachers and staff members. In order to free up his day to participate in classrooms, Phelps can take his work home. Other teachers do not have this opportunity and, therefore, cannot take the chance to join classes.

Phelps also pursues additional education off BVH campus. Every couple years, he takes an upper-division university course in order to expand his knowledge.

“I always pick a really hard math class so that it’s challenging for me,” Phelps said. “Even though I’m an expert in math in the context of BVH, there are plenty of people that know so much more than me.”

One of the missions of the IB program is to promote continued curiosity and a desire to gain knowledge in everyday life. Phelps will be participating in Mardahl-Dumesnil’s fifth period class for another month before shifting his focus to another subject area on campus by ‘enrolling’ in another course.

“I want to remember that there’s so much more for me to learn. I’m not done learning. I’m not done growing.” Phelps said, “[In high school] I remember enjoying when I understood new things, and I absolutely have that feeling here and now. It’s part of why I go out to these classes in the first place.”