Niki Gilbert, MS '05

Science Teacher Certification

Science-Cert Grads and the Four Rivers Charter School

Mandy Locke, Niki Gilbert and Laura Stamas didn't graduate from AUNE's Masters in Environmental Studies and Science Teaching Certification program together, but today they all teach at the same unique new charter school in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

"We didn't set out to have Antioch University New England graduates as three quarters of our science faculty, but it's a huge benefit to us…," said Ed Blatchford, co-founder and executive director of The Four Rivers Charter School. "It's made our school strong." Four Rivers, founded in 2003, provides alternative public school education to nearly two hundred students, grades seven through twelve, from Franklin County, Massachusetts. Curriculum focuses on hands-on, project-based learning, expeditionary education, and community building.

"We were looking for gifted, flexible teachers," said Blatchford. "We hired Mandy [Locke] first. Her Antioch training was key. It fit with our vision and our hopes. Even though she was young in her experience, she's very creative and skill and standard-based." Blatchford and staff hired Laura [Stamas] and Niki [Gilbert] next. "That they were from Antioch was beneficial," he said. "From our point of view, Antioch University New England is the best educational training place locally, and even in the country."

Mandy Locke Never Imagined Herself an Educator

Until a few years ago, Mandy, 34, never imagined she'd be an educator. In 1997 she earned her bachelor degree in communications with a minor in environmental science at Hamilton College based in Clinton, New York. After graduation, she completed a two year internship as a leader in a youth outdoor challenge program, then relocated to Manchester, New Hampshire as a peer outreach worker for the local YWCA. To expand her career path, she enrolled in AUNE's Masters in Environmental Studies and Science Teaching Certification program.

"If you'd told me in high school or college that I'd be teaching, I would have laughed in your face," she said. "But, I loved working in environmental science and have always been interested in outdoor education. I started to ask myself, 'how could I make a career out of what I love-working with kids, hiking, camping, teaching?'….I wasn't sure I wanted to be in a classroom, but I chose Antioch because it gave me options within environmental education."

Equipped with her certification and degree, Mandy was hired by Four Rivers in its founding year, and now teaches seventh grade science and math. "I'm a science teacher by training and a math teacher by necessity," Mandy said. "My Antioch program helped prepare me to teach math and link it to science. I also design the science curriculum…Antioch worked out really well for me. It gave me the openness and desire for feedback. It taught me to design and redesign curriculum until you get it right."

Teaching was a Lifelong Passion for Laura Stamas

Teaching has always been Laura's passion. After receiving a bachelor degree in biology from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, she eventually taught at a small private school that specialized in learning disabilities. Wanting to teach public high school science, she enrolled in AUNE to achieve her goal.

"I taught before going to Antioch, but it really opened things up for me," she said. "The focus on active hands-on learning was a good match for me. A lot of Antioch ideas overlap with expeditionary learning. That's really helped me. I learned how to design curriculum to make things more engaging and important for my students."

Laura, 33, graduated from AUNE in 2005. That same year, she began to teach ninth grade environmental science and tenth grade biology at Four Rivers where she puts her AUNE education into practice. Last fall, she, along with a history teacher, accompanied three dozen ninth graders to a Buckland, Massachusetts farm to live and work for an extended period of time. Students visited eight area farms, interviewed farmers, took photographs and wrote narratives of their experiences.

She's also the first at Four Rivers to mentor a student teacher from Antioch University New England. "He's doing a great job," she said. "He's jumping right in."

Niki Gilbert Fulfills Her Goal

Niki, too, wanted to be a science classroom teacher. She graduated in 1998 from the University of Kentucky in Lexington with an undergraduate degree in biology, and soon launched a career as a researcher and teacher to people of all ages in a variety of venues. To fulfill her classroom teaching goal, she enrolled in AUNE.

"I was a teaching assistant in college and taught environmental education at a residential center," she said. "I also worked at Boston University's biology program and at the Audubon Center in Providence [Rhode Island]. I went to Antioch because I had the desire to become a fulltime classroom teacher. I was drawn to environmental studies at Antioch because of its content and approach. The classes are small and field-based."

Soon after earning her master's degree and science teacher certification, Niki, 32, was hired by the Four Rivers school in 2005 to teach eighth grade science and math.

"I was attracted to the charter school's mission. It's an expeditionary learning school that focuses on in-depth investigation and building sustainable communities," she said. "I was able to develop a philosophy of teaching at Antioch that serves me here. What I took away was the foundation to think about what school can really be like. My environmental studies program gave me the content I was passionate about that I can incorporate into my teaching."