"Super duper" kids and a passion for science
University of Adelaide graduate Sarah Pfennig has made a real impact at the Eyre Peninsula remote area school at Karcultaby since starting there in 2004.
Her passion for science and teaching saw her take out the Helen Castle Memorial Award, named in honour of the country science teacher who died in the bushfires in January 2005. The annual award recognises "an inspiring and highly motivated teacher of science from a country area".
Her motivation and passion for teaching science was palpable in discussion with her, as she spoke about what led her to her chosen career.
"I had fantastic teachers in high school and science really interested me. I just thought, wouldn't it be fantastic to teach science every day of the year!"
Sarah Pfennig started a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Adelaide, convinced that Physics and Chemistry would be her forte, but a compulsory subject in Biology during first year saw her ambitions change course.
"I'd never studied Biology at school, but I loved genetics and really got into environmental stuff. It was a whole new direction for me and I didn't even end up doing Physics and Chemistry in the end.
"Biology is not abstract, you can experience it all around you and when you're teaching you can take the kids out and let them observe everything that's going on all around them."
After finishing her degree, she continued at the University of Adelaide, studying teaching.
"It was a very different experience. At a very basic level I loved it that there were no exams, but it was great to be surrounded by so many mature-age students. Science was mainly for people who were school leavers just beginning their lives, but I really loved talking with people about why they came back to university and what they had done in their lives, and why."
The Helen Castle Award allowed Sarah to come to Adelaide to attend the SA Science Teachers Association conference.
"It takes seven hours to drive to Adelaide, so a two-day conference becomes a four-day trip. The award made it possible for me to make the trip."
Karcultaby Area School is based half way between Minnipa and Poochera and was set up to service both areas - the school is not in a town. It is attended by 88 students ranging from Kindergarten to Year 12 and staffed by 15 teachers.
"It's such a great community here and the kids are super duper. There are about ten kids in each class so you really get to know the kids and form relationships with them as people, rather than just as students."
Sarah will be extending her original three-year tenure with the school to stay an additional year. ■
Story Lisa Reid