For Elisa Peters, lifelong learning is the best part

Photos by Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Heritage Hills High School Science Instructor Elisa Peters, center, works with sophomore Olivia Phillips, left, junior Kya Weatherholt and sophomore Graham Gardner on their model urinary tracts during her Human Body Systems class at the school in Lincoln City on March 19. 

BY LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

LINCOLN CITY — Students in Elisa Peters’ principles of biomedical science class at Heritage Hills High School shivered one March afternoon as they immersed their bare feet in a tank of ice water. The students were conducting lab experiments about the effects of different activities on blood pressure. One team decided to look at what exposure to water at different temperatures did, and their classmates agreed to be test subjects.

If you’d asked Peters 10 years ago if she thought she’d be watching students submerge their feet in ice water in a biomedical class she was teaching at her alma mater, she would have said no. Back then, Peters was working as an environmental chemist, and teaching wasn’t on her mind. But six years ago the chance to teach came up, and Peters decided to take it. Now, she teaches all of Heritage Hills’ biomedical science classes, and she figures she’s found the job she’ll retire from.

“I love it. I really do,” she said. “I don’t like grading. That’s one thing I don’t like to do is discourage kids with a grade.”

A native of Lamar, Peters, 47, graduated from Heritage Hills and pursued a degree in biology and chemistry at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. After that, she applied to medical school twice, but didn’t get in, so she took jobs in the environmental field in various industries. Eventually, she ended up working for a local water utility. Then, six years ago, word spread that Heritage Hills’ biology teacher had resigned, and the school was having a hard time filling the vacancy. There was talk of the agriculture teacher having to teach some biology, meaning the ag department would lose some classes. Peters’ sons — Heritage Hills graduates Jacob and Eddison and current senior Luke — were all in the agriculture program, and Peters didn’t want to see any of those classes cut. She called Principal Nick Alcorn, who she’d had as a teacher.

“I said I don’t have my education degree, but I’d be interested if you guys need somebody,” Peters recalled.

The school hired her on an emergency license, and she enrolled in a master’s program to earn a standard license. She also added credit hours to that degree that would qualify her to teach Project Lead the Way biomedical courses. After she finished that degree, she enrolled in a summer program to get qualified to teach dual credit anatomy and physiology. Now, she teaches every biomedical class at Heritage Hills, and attending summer trainings has become a tradition for her. In recent years, she has attended a literacy workshop, a seminar on nanotechnology and several workshops on integrating new technology into the classroom. She plans to apply for an epidemiology workshop through the Centers for Disease Control in the future, too.

“I look for something every summer that I can do to expand my knowledge base,” Peters said.

Heritage Hills High School Science Instructor Elisa Peters prepares to give a lecture on the urinary tract during her Human Body Systems class at the school on Tuesday.

When you’re teaching in an ever-changing subject area like biomedicine, continually learning is key. That’s one of the things Peters loves about her work. Recently, she said, a student came into class and talked about an article that said scientists had just learned something new about lactic acid in muscles. Such conversations are common in Peters’ classroom.

“I’ll say, ‘Isn’t that cool?’,” Peters said. “There’s all this that we know, and we can do all these things in medicine and treatment, and we still don’t know it all. There’s still something to be learned.”

The opportunity to be a lifelong learner is Peters’ favorite part of teaching, and she jumps at every opportunity she gets to gain new knowledge. Every so often, students want to research something outside of class for a personal project — several students just had projects in the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair at the University of Southern Indiana — and Peters is always excited to help with that.

Peters’ students notice extensive knowledge and willingness to learn.

“She’s very educated,” said sophomore Lindsey Roos. “She knows everything about everything.”

Peters is the first to say that’s not true. Every so often, her students will ask her a question about the body she can’t answer, and she’ll research it right along with them. That’s another thing her students like about her.

“She’s really involved with the stuff we do,” said freshman Shelby Skelton.

When she’s complimented on her work, Peters’ humility shows. She’s quick to point out that all the teachers at Heritage Hills, and in North Spencer, go above and beyond for the students to make sure they get the best education possible, and she said she feels very blessed to work with all of them. She also feels blessed to have her family support her teaching career. In addition to their three sons, Peters and her husband, Brian, adopted three daughters from China — eighth-grader Xia, seventh-grader Sadie and sixth-grader Katie — and finding a good work-life balance can be a challenge, Peters said. She’s at school between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. every day, then stays until about 5 p.m. when her kids finish sports practice. At home, she usually does another hour or so of grading every day, and she takes one day on the weekend for grading. Without her family’s willingness to let her bring her work home and Brian’s help around the house, Peters said, she wouldn’t be able to teach. Sometimes, Brian even helps her grade, taking care of multiple choice sections on tests and quizzes.

For Peters, the long days and the grading are the worst parts about teaching. But the opportunity to watch students grow and learn makes it worth it.

“I love hearing back from my kids that go off to college that they’re very successful and they’re doing well,” Peters said. “There’s a lot of people who are down on education. I always encourage my kids. Teaching is a great option if you enjoy working with people.”

This story is part of Featured Teachers, a monthly series that highlights educators in our community. To suggest an educator to be featured, email Education Reporter Leann Burke at lburke@dcherald.com or call her at 812-482-2626.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com