The BIOTECH TEACHER
Finding scientific solutions may sound difficult to many people, but Jeff Bush, a biotechnology teacher at Vero Beach High School, makes it easier to understand for his students. ED DRONDOSKI PHOTO
BY JERRY SHAW
An honor for individual success is not as important as recognizing the whole group involved in that achievement, biotechnology teacher Jeffrey Bush likes to point out.
When he was named Vero Beach High School’s Teacher of the Year, he admits he didn’t “feel comfortable,” preferring instead to acknowledge other teachers and professionals, as well as the students, who helped in the accomplishments of his unique science class.
“It is really because of the program, not because of me,” Bush explains. “It’s about the program more than anything else.”
Bush’s biotech room was transformed from an old automotive class into a functional lab that amazes the best people in the field. “Professionals come in and they just can’t believe it, what we have and what these kids are doing,” he notes.
Gina Hodges, head of the career and technology department at the time, worked on the aesthetics while Bush focused on the technical aspects in the designing of the lab. They also worked with an architect. “It’s a beautiful facility, very unique,” Bush declares. “There are very few high schools that have what we have.”
The school administration gave them overwhelming support. His program gets continued assistance from community organizations, such as Harbor Branch, the USDA, Syngenta, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Department and the Indian River Medical Center.
“The partnerships we have in the area have been really helpful,” Bush says.
Students in the program can earn state accreditation in biotechnology by taking an exam after two years, which helps them get jobs or enter colleges. By the third year of the program, students can begin doing internships or field research for such places as Harbor Branch. They can also earn credits for college.
Two students who haven’t yet graduated have already been hired to work at Syngenta, which provides crop solutions. Other students have found jobs with labs in the sheriff’s department and the medical center.
Most of the students, however, want to use the knowledge they’ve learned to attend colleges and universities. Two students are at Yale. One college student told Bush she loved the school, but felt the lab at Vero Beach had better equipment.
“We have a lot of students who have done amazing things,” Bush says.
“I am very proud to say our tax dollars were well spent as this is directly affecting the lives of many students in a very positive way.”
Bush oversees six biotech classes at the high school with about 28 students in each class. Biotechnology is related to finding cures for diseases, attacking viruses, growing and manipulating cells, DNA research, and genetics. Agriculture, food industries, and medical research labs benefit from the field of science.
“The USDA has been very helpful,” Bush says. “Each year they spend time with us, teaching the kids the technologies they are doing.”
To share his teaching award with other instructors, Bush came up with his TOY (teacher of the year) project for the teacher-of-the-year gala at the school.
He asked staff members at VBHS to email him back with stories about something they did to help a student or education. He was amazed when he received dozens of little stories about how they aided kids in need or improved the skills of students.
One staff member wrote about how many teachers open their doors to kids after school so they “get to tell their story or feel that there is someone who will listen to them or even care about them … My hat’s off to all those teachers who give up planning, lunch and after-school prep for counseling!”
Others mentioned how teachers helped out students financially when they needed books and clothes, paying for cheerleading camp or helping to raise funds for a student fighting lymphoma.
Bush called it “the only thing important to me about the Teacher of the Year award.”
Now in his fourth year with the Indian River County School District, Bush and his wife, Cindy, left overcrowded Southern California and decided to live near Vero Beach after visiting his father. Bush found a job with VBHS. Cindy, a former science teacher, started a home décor business. They bought a house in Melbourne Beach.
They are both ocean oriented and fell in love with the area. It sometimes reminds Bush of the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, where he also lived, with its “laid back surfer mentality.”
Aside from enjoying the water activities in the area, the Bushes have done a lot of bike touring. “We biked across the country a few times and biked across Europe,” he says. “Biking in Europe is just awesome.”
His enthusiasm for talking with people throughout the country and Europe on his trips is only outmatched by his passion for “what students are doing” in his biotech program
Lives in: Melbourne Beach
School: Vero Beach High School
Family: Wife, Cindy
Education: University of California-San Diego, degree in biochemistry; National University, San Diego, master’s degree in education technology.
Background: Grew up in Burlington, Vt.
How I got into teaching: “I went to college in California. Stayed there most of my life.” He became interested in teaching biotechnology while receiving his degrees. “It’s a broad-based topic. Biotechnology is related to all types of science.”
What I like best about teaching: “What everybody’s doing behind the scenes to help the kids.”
Something my students probably don’t know about me: “A friend of mine (from high school in Vermont) and I have seen every national park in the U.S.” They set the goal about 20 years ago for backpacking trips.