When Viera High School’s Elizabeth Youngs decided she was going to teach Forensic Science two years ago, she didn’t want to do it without boning up on the subject herself.
So, on her own time, she drove to the University of Central Oklahoma, where she took a two-week course on the subject.
"I didn’t want to come in blind, and I didn’t want to teach the course by them opening up the textbook (and saying), ‘We’re going to read Chapter One and you’re going to answer these questions. We’re going to read Chapter Two and you’re going to answer these questions,’" Youngs said.
"Science is not learned that way. I’ve set up crime scenes with Barbie dolls. Last (month), we looked at their hair samples under microscopes so they could see what human hair that’s never been dyed looks like. If your hair has been dyed, what does it look like then?"
Being able to keep her students engaged is just one of the reasons Youngs recently was named Viera High’s Teacher of the Year in a vote by the school’s faculty.
"I am so proud to work with Ms. Youngs and have her represent Viera High School as the Teacher of the Year," Viera principal Sarah Robinson wrote in an email.
"Ms. Youngs makes science come alive to her students and they leave her class wanting to be challenged even more. She spends countless hours setting up engaging lessons, coaching students for Science Research, and serving as our Science Department Chair.
"She has had a positive impact on both the students and staff at Viera High School."
A Brevard County teacher for 25 years, Youngs is in her 11th year at Viera. Winning the Teacher of the Year award caught the 61-year-old off guard.
"I guess I was surprised because I kind of stay in my own little world up here in the science department," she said. "The things I’m involved in are basically all science. I was surprised that more people knew what I actually do, even though it’s concentrated in this area."
Having taught a number of different science courses at Viera, Youngs was intrigued about adding a forensic science course because it’s the kind of hands-on experience that can pique a student’s interest when they can talk about it and see it in action, learning there’s a lot more to it than what they see on TV shows like "CSI."
In fact, some students will come tell her what a particular show did wrong in a particular crime scene (like showing people not wearing gloves when collecting evidence).
Much of Friday’s class time is spent watching episodes of "Forensic Files" where students can get a glimpse of what working in the field is like.
"They see cases that are well known," Youngs said. "They see professionals come in and talk during the TV show. … It allows people to know that forensic science is not just the person that goes to the crime scene. There are forensic scientists in the lab that just deal with fingerprints or just deal with hair samples.
"I think they realize that ‘Forensic Files’ is not just your viewpoint of CSI. They know they can’t find fingerprints in 30 seconds as it happens on TV. That part of it, I really enjoy."
Youngs also enjoys hearing from former students. One former middle school student invited Youngs to see her graduate with a doctorate degree in Pharmaceutical Science. Another just graduated from Johns Hopkins University and is working in the dermatology field in the Boston area.
Another student, who now runs his own lawn service, told her he learned a lot about chemistry from taking her class.
"That’s part of the fun of it, hearing about what your students have accomplished and what they’re doing nowadays," Youngs said. "…The connections you make with students go beyond the four walls of the classroom."