Islander wins outstanding teacher award
Science teacher and Jamestown resident James Simmons has been awarded the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award by the National Association of Biology Teachers. Simmons has been teaching for 14 years, with 11 of those years at North Kingstown High School.
Simmons received a bachelor of science degree in wildlife biology and management from the University of Rhode Island. Simmons said after graduation he was poised to take a job out west counting waterfowl as they migrated from their summer homes to their winter homes. He said it was while questioning the importance of this work and contemplating the potential impact it would have that he stumbled upon the idea of teaching. “I realized that people would only make connections with things that they understood. And that they would only understand what they were taught—and that’s when the light went on,” he said.
Nominated for the outstanding teacher award by science department head Lynn Wolslegel, the award took Simmons by surprise. “The whole process has made me a little uncomfortable and I really was not expecting to win,” Simmons said.
While Simmons is humble about his contributions, Wolslegel sang his praises. “He is wellliked and respected by his students, mixing doses of humor and structure into all his classes. His greenhouse elective classes are always popular and filled. As a colleague he is great to work with and very willing to help others in the department in whatever capacity he is needed,” she said.
In addition to the biology classes Simmons instructs, he also teaches horticulture courses involving the greenhouses. The courses include landscaping and floriculture/greenhouse management. “The landscaping class is run as part classroom and part active business. The students learn all the aspects of landscaping, including design, plant identifi- cation, and practical application. Our business has one client, the town of North Kingstown, and we maintain several areas around the high school. We are implementing several gardens at the school, including a memory garden, a Japanese garden, a shaped hedge and many other small beds around the school,” Simmons said.
The greenhouse class operates as part of the clean air initiative, Simmons said. “The greenhouse class produces many plants that are sold or given away as part of our clean air initiative. We have many plant sales throughout the year and our kids learn all about the art of Bonsai,” he said. In fact, one of Simmons’ favorite teaching memories involves the art of Bonsai. “My favorite memory is a former student who used to come to the greenhouse after school to work on some of the “Bonsai” plants before he went to practice. He said that it helped him relax and he was able to take his mind off things. He even brought his teammates.”
Simmons would like more people to understand the importance of education. He sees ignorance as the “single greatest threat to our existence.” According to Simmons, education can help to alleviate this threat. “Ignorance has created and continues to create many of the problems that we face in every aspect of our lives. Education is the only true elixir that has the potential to cure all that ails our society,” he said.
Simmons credits the people who went before him as instrumental in his own development. “I have benefited from people who taught me to have a great respect for the world around me and who have opened my eyes to the wonders of the natural world and the people who strive to maintain these wonders as humans carve out their niche in the world.”
Simmons hopes to share that reverence with his own students and to help them make responsible choices. “All students want to learn and all students carry the capacity to learn, but also to become positive contributors to our society,” he said.
Simmons will be honored at the National Association of Biology Teachers Convention in Denver, Colo., this November.