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Fallbrook resident who teaches in Temecula joins island ecology research team

Fallbrook resident Cheryl Buettner, a science teacher at River Springs Charter School in Temecula, recently received a fully-funded environmental research trek to a Caribbean island.

Buettner is one of 22 educators from eight states to receive fellowships distributed by the nonprofit Earthwatch Institute, an international advocacy group made up of nature-oriented volunteers.

She considers her classroom approach to be a mix of discipline and comical entertainment aimed at educating future Nobel Prize winners. Within the school, she is assigned to the Da Vinci Academy for middle school students.

“I’ve always considered myself to be the love child of Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus,” the 46-year-old teacher said in a recent telephone interview. “I’ll do anything with costumes, hands-on activities, reader’s theater plays – anything that helps demonstrate concepts – while having fun and still using good solid science.”

The fellowships are funded by the Northrop Grumman Foundation. Northrop Grumman is a global security and weapons development company.

“I am very grateful they made this possible,” said Buettner. “It’s not something I could afford on a teacher’s salary. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but never had the opportunity to do so.”

Buettner learned about the fellowship program while she was attending a California Science Teachers Association conference last year. She was selected because of her geographic location, her potential contribution to ongoing research and her follow-up curriculum plan.

A former biomedical researcher, Buettner left the world of animal testing to pursue a goal of inspiring future scientists. She has taught multiple grade levels, from preschool through adults, during her 15-year tenure as a teacher.

She also served as an education coordinator for the Grassland Environmental Education Center, and a gifted and talented education coordinator for the Los Banos Unified School District.

The fellowship includes an expedition focused on climate change through a program developed by Earthwatch. Buettner will journey to the Bahamas to study ways of preserving the coastal ecology of the island.

The Bahamas expedition teams will focus on research sites at the archipelago’s southern islands of Long Island, Great Exuma and Great Inagua.

Buettner is currently teaching her students about weather and water. The expedition fits in perfectly with class subjects like that, she said.

“(The expedition) will provide me with real-world experience,” she added. “I’ll be collecting data and studying the direct human impact on the environment.”

Finding a balance between human needs and their impacts on the environment is critical for the future, she said.

“I am so excited to be a part of this,” she said. “Ever since I was in college at Berkeley doing field research, I’ve wanted to get back in the field and collect data.”

The knowledge she will gain from the expedition will aid her students’ understanding of math and science, and help inspire the next generation of environmental ambassadors, according to a Northrop Grumman Foundation and Earthwatch Institute news release.

“As exciting as it is to hear about the teachers’ research experiences in various places around the world, it can be even more exciting to watch the ripple effect that takes place when they return from their Earthwatch expedition – in their classroom and communities,” said Ed Wilson, Earthwatch president and chief executive, in a press release.

“We’re thrilled with Northrop Grumman Foundation’s support of this important program at a time when we need action, not apathy, in the face of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.”

Visit to learn more about the expedition.

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