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Science teacher leaves Park City Learning Center

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

Ever since Jenny Polloczek was five years old, she wanted to be a biologist. She has worked throughout the West, as well as in Australia, Africa and Alaska. She was a marine biologist in the Peace Corps working to reintroduce giant clams in the Philippines.

But for the past two years, she has been in Park City, Utah, teaching tenth- through twelfth-graders biology, environmental science and wildlife biology as Park City Learning Center’s science teacher. Polloczek, however, has decided to leave the Learning Center in hopes to stop the spread of Quagga mussels in Utah.

"It’s a great opportunity because I get to teach and do research," she said. As the new Aquatic Nuisance Species Biologist for the northern region of Utah, Polloczek will be working for the Division of Wildlife Resources doing student outreach throughout Summit County.

"I’ll be working with students from grade school all the way up to the university, teaching them how to prevent spread of Quagga mussels," she said. "I will also be monitoring the lakes and rivers to see how far it has spread."

"It’s not going to be a requirement for schools, but I am hoping to get some collaboration with teachers and also try and get lesson plans tailored to the core curriculum," Polloczek said.

Things like washing boats off in very hot water or making sure to release the bilge before launching into another lake, as well as not using bait in one lake and then using it in another, will help prevent the mussels from spreading, she said.

The mussels were first found in Lake Mead. They filter out algae and alter a lake’s food web, which impacts other species and can cause "dead zones," like the ones found in Lake Erie. "They also have a huge economic impact," Polloczek said. "They can clog irrigation and culinary water pipes, and be detrimental to dam machinery."

As part of her new job, Polloczek plans to join a gathering of biologist at the 100th Meridian Initiative in Las Vegas on Monday to discuss how to keep invasive species from moving past the 100th meridian.

One major factor in the spread of invasive species is global climate change, she said. In the classroom, global climate change was also a major part of Polloczek’s curriculum. "We looked at alternative energies and talked about their different uses," she said. Subjects like solar houses and building a fuel car are just some of her environmentally-focused projects.

While organizations like Recycle Utah are trying to get an environmental curriculum included in the state’s core curriculum, Polloczek feels the state’s standards can be interpreted to facilitate teaching about environmental concerns.

"It’s going to be a huge issue for the students’ future, so it would be nice if in the curriculum, it was a more clearly defined objective," she said. "Things like global climate change are scary, and you can tell the kids are worried."

One of the ways in which Polloczek is trying to minimize her impact on the environment is by building an environmentally-friendly house with her husband. "We are trying to use as many local resources as possible," she said. "We found a local lumber mill that uses beetle-kill wood." They are using cellulose insulation, which is composed mostly of recycled newspaper.

"We are trying to impact the environment as minimally as possible," she said. Their home’s façade was created from rocks in the yard, and they plan on planting only native, drought-resistant plants.

Tessie Palczynski, a special education teacher at the Learning Center, said she was so impressed by what Polloczek does in and out of the classroom. "She’s an amazing alternative education teacher," she said. "She lives what she teaches, and now she’s building what she teaches."

For people who are interesting in building a green home, or improving the home they already have, Polloczek suggested going to Park City’s library section on green building or visiting the Green Building Initiative Web site, http://www.thegbi.org .

Park City Area Home Builders Association also plans to host a Green Building Education Series on Dec. 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The pre-registration price for Build Utah members is $100 and for day-of-registration or non-members is $125. Call (435) 645.9363 for more information and to register.

While Polloczek will still be teaching children in her new job, she said she will definitely miss the day-to-day interactions with her students. "It’s a pretty close community at the Learning Center. You get to know the kids and staff really well," she said.

"She was a great teacher," Learning Center principal, Tom Van Gorder, said. "The kids loved her class, and we will miss her." He is in the process of interviewing applicants for Polloczek’s position, but he said it is tough to find a teacher this time of year. Polloczek’s last day at the Learning Center was Tuesday.


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