By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Getting a compliment from a student she inspired means a lot to Wendy Martin, a science teacher at Assumption High School.
Former student Abby Greufe, along with her family, nominated Martin for teacher of the year through the syndicated morning talk show “Live! with Kelly.” Martin said she thought the nomination “was an incredible honor.”
Abby just completed her freshman year at Luther College in Decorah. Her siblings Brady, a junior at the University of Iowa, and Casey, a junior at Assumption High School, and mom, Tara, all selected Martin while talking over the subject of favorite teachers during Easter break. Tara said Abby “is the writer of the family, so I asked her to write a letter to Live! with Kelly show, on behalf of the family.”
Now Martin is one of five teachers nationwide vying for teacher of the year on the national TV program.
In her letter to the show’s host, Kelly Ripa, Abby Greufe wrote that Martin is “a modern-day Bill Nye the Science Girl.” Martin gives meaning to the phrase “science rules.” She not only drives students to excel academically, but instills a passion for the often detested subject, Greufe said.
She noted that Martin demonstrates a love for science through hands-on activities she designs for students. One example: In a lesson on DNA, the teacher had students craft a necklace that includes a vial of their own DNA.
Martin teaches freshmen biology, anatomy and physiology and AP biology, and has been at Assumption for 13 years. She originally wanted to be a park ranger and earned her bachelor’s degree from Montana State University. Later, she earned a teaching license from the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. Since teaching at Assumption she also has earned a master’s degree from The Franciscan University in Clinton.
“I love it here and I love science,” she said during an interview in her classroom last week. She said she likes to make science relevant to students. Hands-on projects and field trips “make class more interesting. I want them to be interested in science and to like it. They may not go into that field, but if they hear the word DNA, I want their ears to perk up and think about what they learned.”
In Greufe’s nomination letter, she also talked about a riding mower accident that involved Martin’s then-3-year-old son Nate. The child’s arm was severed, but he made it through the ordeal thanks to blood donations. Martin has headed the Assumption blood drive committee and recruits students to participate for several years.
Nate’s life since the accident has provided Martin with observations she can incorporate in her science classes, such as the effect that losing a limb has on one’s balance and learning to operate a prosthetic arm.
“She personally explained his condition in a scientific manner. It was not only eye-opening, but (gave) a sense of awe and respect for both Nate and his wonder mom,” Greufe said.
Nate is now 4 and a preschooler at John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport. Martin and her husband, Rob, also have a daughter, Erika, a sixth-grader at JFK, and a son, Calvin, a junior at Assumption.
On May 12, Martin and Greufe left for New York to prepare for an appearance on Live! with Kelly scheduled for May 15. “I was allowed to bring one person and I chose Abby,” Martin said. Greufe took finals early to be able to travel with Martin.
Although they’ll be engaged in activities for the show, Martin and Greufe will have plenty of free time to explore New York. Martin hoped to be able to go to the Natural History Museum and Ellis Island.
A TV crew visited Assumption on May 8 and 9 to videotape and interview Martin, students, faculty and administration.
Many teachers were nominated for the honor; after sorting through thousands of letters, the show narrowed the selection to 12 nominees. After online voting, the list was narrowed to five. Another round of online voting May 18-21 will determine the winner, who will be announced on the show May 22. Martin said a satellite truck will be at all five schools where the finalists teach so that they can watch the show live.