This May marked the final days that Oakdale students sat in the classroom of Fred Yerzy. After 35 years as an educator Yerzy is moving on to beginning a life of retirement.
“I’m going to travel to the east coast and see the fall colors,” the Oakdale Junior High science teacher said of his future plans. “I always talk about chlorophyll and I want to see for myself. Enjoy the colors myself. I’m going to relax as well.”
In addition to a little travel and some relaxation, Yerzy has volunteer work on his short list. He has plans to do volunteer work at the Modesto Junior College Planetarium, the Science Community Center, Great Valley Museum and continue his passion for constellations with Telescope Nights at the campus.
“You know when you’re ready and I just felt this is it,” he said of his retirement.
Twenty-five of Yerzy’s 35 years as an educator have been on the Oakdale Junior High School campus.
The science teacher began his tenure with Oakdale Joint Unified in 1989. His first two years were spent at Magnolia Elementary, before finding his permanent home at Oakdale Junior High.
“I want to be able to move on, into an environment where I don’t have to worry about management,” he said, referring to students and the difference between the two campus environments in the way of learning, heading now to do volunteer work in the college setting as opposed to junior high.
That’s not to say the science enthusiast won’t miss the Oakdale student body or the opportunities and experiences he has shared with them. Twenty-five years in one place brings with it a lot of change as well as memories.
Most notably for Yerzy were the Science field trips he began offering students in 2005. The idea was to travel with students and parents to offer hands on learning experiences in unique, as well as diverse locations.
“I couldn’t believe the enthusiasm we got for these trips,” the teacher said. “I was watching the parents turn into lifelong learners, right alongside the students.”
The science field trips included trips to Hawaii, Kennedy Space Center, the Florida Keys and Everglades, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and the Great Tetons.
“Parents started expecting the field trips, which was a really good thing,” he said. “The students’ classmates and friends were encouraging them. They were excited to hear when they got back. It was just perfect.”
One change which has brought Yerzy the most concern in the way of teaching is students’ increased dependency on technology and tablets.
“I really think there’s life past the iPad,” he said. “When you detach them a little bit and utilize their senses.
“They don’t get a chance to get the ‘ahhh’ in class anymore,” he continued. “They call it the 11th emotion, the ‘ahhh.”
The lifelong learner shared his observance of students consulting devices for guidance versus using creativity or imagination to help discover.
“They’ll google how to make a castle before they even think,” he said. “The mind still wants the ‘ahhh’ but the technology is robbing them of this beautiful planet.”
Yerzy’s passion for science stretches back to his childhood, noting that it is something he has always loved. He said his mind is naturally curious (to this day) about the weather and its pattern, the environment and its evolution.
“To be able to see someone for the first time see lava or something like that, you get to be that age in that experience one more time,” he said. “It refreshes your mind. That is amazing.”