Ormond Beach Middle says goodbye to its 'science fair crusader'
One Ormond Beach Middle School teacher is retiring with a legacy of learning.
When Mary Back leaves Ormond Beach Middle School at the end of this school year, she’ll be leaving behind more than just a few empty beakers.
Though she started off teaching Exceptional Student Education classes, Back is retiring from her career as a science teacher. An educator for 37 years, she is known throughout the school for being a science-fair crusader.
“My passion is for them to experience science as a hands-on activity,” Back said. “I think it’s one of the best ways ever. It’s like I’ve planted a seed that’s grown. It’s the most exciting part of my year. I want everybody to have that experience."
Back’s students participated in the districtwide science fair earlier this month. Eight of her students will be going up to the state competition.
“It’s exciting for the kids,” Back said. “They put in a lot of hard work, and a lot of my kids did multiple trials of their experiment — anywhere from five to 10 trials — and that’s what the high school expects.”
Back pushes the science fair not only because it aligns with Common Core standards but also because it crosses all levels of science students have to study.
“It’s not just giving them a packet and saying, 'Go do it,'” Back said, “I really wanted to teach them the steps of being a true scientist."
Though she hopes her students hold their science fair memories close, there’s one lesson she teaches at the beginning of the year that she doesn’t want them to ever forget.
“Science is not 45 minutes a day with me,” Back said. “Science is in everything they do. I coined a phrase, ETSAY: Enjoy the Science Around You. It’s in your breathing, our bodies in motion. Science is in our lives, and sometimes they have a hard time seeing that connection.”
Back does what she can to make science relevant to her students by tying their projects into real life involving current events like the Winter Olympics. Some students made their projects even more personal.
“One little boy studied the different phases of sound with audiotronics,” Back said, “because his grandfather has issues with sound and the disturbances in his hearing aids. And I related a lot to that because of my dad. We can make a better world.”
Though she is excited to see what other opportunities are out there for her, Back said her retirement from teaching is bittersweet.
"When you see the lightbulb go off and you know the kids really get it," Back said, watery-eyed. "It's so multifaceted. There have been so many wonderful memories. It's not just a job you go to. I'm really going to miss it."
And as an educator at heart, Mrs. Mary Back doesn't want her students to ever stop learning.
"What I want on my epitaph is that I died learning," Back said. "I say never stop learning. Always find the opportunity to learn and to grow."
Mrs. Back's students will miss the teacher that was 'always there'
David Truilo created a project for the science fair each year due to his love of the subject and discovery. He said he will miss Mrs. Back because she actually participated in the act of science. His favorite memory was his first time in her class.
"In sixth grade, she lit the table on fire," Truilo said. "That was pretty interesting. She certainly left an impression."
Gathering information and getting to walk up on a stage are some of Giuliani Klioze's favorite moments of the science fair.
"When (Mrs. Back) leaves, there will be no one here to egg on everybody to do the science fair," Klioze said. "She's just a really nice teacher, and, when she leaves, I feel the school won't be complete."
Emily Scuteri's can get into Mrs. Back's science lessons because they are easy to understand. She said her teacher always makes things fun and interesting.
"One time during the science fair, I stayed (at school) till 7:30," she said, "and she stayed with me to do work. That made her my favorite teacher, and it makes me feel good that she cares about her students so much."
Everyone is used to seeing Mrs. Back around after school and lunch time, according to Nina Ramchander. She'll miss the way Mrs. Back teaches science.
"She gives a lot of work, but she teaches it really well," Ramchander said. "She knows what she's talking about."
Yoke Tassent knew that Mrs. Back wanted her to understand science, not just get a good grade. Tassent had the science teacher for two years and will miss how she went above and beyond for her students.
"If we ever need help on anything she would always be there," Tassent said. "She would stay after school even though she probably had better things to do."