ILION — Ask Central Valley Academy students where they would expect to find English teacher Lyn Cipriano over the summer. One answer you would not hear is, "Dissecting squid in California."
But that is one of the many things Cipriano did this summer as part of the 2016 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholars program at the Steinbeck Institute in Salinas, California.
She was one of 25 teachers selected from across the country to be part of the three-week "John Steinbeck: Social Critic and Ecologist" workshop.
The workshop encouraged teachers to see life through the eyes of one of America’s greatest writers.
Most people know Steinbeck as the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner and writer of "Of Mice and Men," "The Grapes of Wrath" and "East of Eden." Few people know he was a committed ecologist.
"Among the most amazing things that I learned about John Steinbeck through this course was his strong interests in ecology and conservation," Cipriano said in a news release.
"He was a very close friend of Edward Ricketts, one of the earliest ecologists and a resident of Monterey. Ricketts greatly influenced Steinbeck’s writing and style. Steinbeck even made him a major character in one of his books, ‘Cannery Row,’" she added.
The scholars visited Steinbeck’s childhood home and California Rodeo Salinas, went on a whale watch and explored a tidal pool. They also attended sessions at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, studying biology in the same classroom Steinbeck had studied in 1923.
"The Steinbeck seminar was absolutely the greatest learning experience that I have had as an educator, and I feel very honored to have been a part of it," Cipriano said.
Cipriano’s summer experience ties into Central Valley’s focus on writing. Students at all levels are learning to write in all of their classes, from physical education to chemistry.
"Due to this strong connection between science and literature, I wrote my culminating project on STEM and ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ I will be using this in my Honors English class this year," said Cipriano.
Superintendent Richard Hughes said experiences such as this elevate the quality of teaching in the district. He believes Cipriano will be even better able to demonstrate the power and importance of writing across all disciplines.
"Like all forms of communication, writing requires a person to gather information, then organize and present it in a way that makes sense to the recipient," Hughes said.
"Learning to write demonstrates knowledge of the subject and an ability to share that knowledge with others. This is a skill our students will use throughout their lives," he added.