Linthicum science teacher is honored

January 24, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

Mary Salchunas was only an 18-year-old kid teaching fifth-graders at St. Philip Neri Elementary School in Linthicum when she began to develop the style that recently won her a gold bell as Anne Arundel County's Educator of the Month for January.

School administrators at St. Philip Neri let teachers experiment with new ideas, said Ms. Salchunas, now a fifth-grade science and language arts teacher at Linthicum Elementary.

They could try whatever they thought worked best, and to Ms. Salchunas that meant having her students conduct experiments.

"I believe that you can only teach science with a hands-on process," she explained.

Ms. Salchunas attended Baltimore Junior College before joining St. Philip Neri in 1966. Three years later, she was hired at Park Elementary in Brooklyn Park, where she taught for 20 years while completing undergraduate and graduate degrees at Johns Hopkins University.

She has been at Linthicum Elementary, where banners in the media center and cafeteria congratulate her for the award presented at the Jan. 5 school board meeting, since 1988.

Ms. Salchunas was selected from nominees submitted by schools throughout the county.

Under her guidance, the number of Linthicum students participating in the school's annual science fair, has grown from 50 four years ago to more than 300 last year.

"I see the science fair as a really powerful tool. It lets kids use all the skills they've gotten in language arts, and in science and in the [experimental] process," said Ms. Salchunas. "It lets them investigate to their hearts' content."

The projects also allow students to share knowledge, she said. The school science projects are judged based on a student's grade level.

The best projects by third- and fourth-graders and by fifth -and sixth-graders win grand prizes and are submitted to the county science fair in April.

Last year, children from kindergarten through second grade were recognized with participation awards for their efforts in the school science fair, said Ms. Salchunas.

"[There were] a lot less tears," she said, "and it was also a safe way for students to learn what's expected of them."

Ms. Salchunas was nominated for the award by Sharyn Doyle, Linthicum Elementary's principal; Nancy Kruger, a reaching teacher; and Kathleen Nappi, a teaching assistant.

"I've worked with Mary over 20 years," said Ms. Nappi. "And she's been a totally dedicated teacher, and I've always felt that. It's her life."

Ms. Salchunas has even spent her own money, buying items such as dish detergent for her students' experiments.

About two years ago, a parent approached Ms. Doyle and told her the PTA would be willing to set up a fund to support teachers such as Ms. Salchunas. The result was the PTA Science Fund, which reimburses teachers for their out-of-pocket expenses.

Ms. Salchunas often brings rocks and fossils from her travels to Western Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Badlands and Black Hills in South Dakota, and the Green River in Wyoming, into the classroom to use in her lessons.

One of her students' favorite experiments -- which initially leaves them baffled -- is called the Dancing Raisins, said Ms. Salchunas. The students mix baking soda and vinegar in a jar with raisins. As bubbles collect on the raisins, the raisins expand. Eventually, they float to the top. At the top, the bubbles pop, and the raisins fall back down.

Ms. Salchunas said she has "loved every minute of" her career.

"It's an area where there's a lot of freedom for kids to be kids,

and in this age I think that's very important," she said.

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