A Menomonee Falls science teacher with a flair for making her class accessible and fun for middle-school students has been honored by the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee for excellence in teaching.

Cathy Ferderbar, science teacher at St. Mary School, Menomonee Falls, and her students dissect an animal in the school’s science lab. Ferdebar received the 2014 Celebrate Teachers and Teaching Award from the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee last fall. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Mary School, Menomonee Falls)An alumna of St. Mary Parish School, Cathy Ferderbar has taught science at her alma mater since her daughter Elizabeth, a veterinarian in Rochester, New York, was in kindergarten. She also has a son, Matthew, a social scientist for the conservation district in Fairbanks, Alaska.

In October, she received the 2014 Celebrate Teachers, and Teaching Award from the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee.

She is a Marquette University alumna, and recently earned her doctorate through Cardinal Stritch University

A passionate educator, Ferderbar, who also teaches science for non-science majors at Concordia University, believes people need to be stewards of the world and integrates her beliefs in hands-on courses.  

“St. Mary School is a culture of service that permeates all we do and as a science teacher, I try to help focus on that understanding of God’s calling you to protect world water, soil, people and all of the organisms, and to conserve our resources,” she said. “I work with Riveredge Nature Center to develop programs and we have developed one on Protecting Wisconsin Ecosystems. Students learn about native and invasive plants in our area and how to identify and remove invasive ones. When I see how St. Mary works, I believe that, as stewards, it is important to start in our school. We want students to be global citizens, not just in our narrow Catholic community, but extending into the bigger world.”

Ferderbar’s teaching style encourages students to gain a greater sensitivity for the environment. Because of her teaching, students find creative ways to live green, by cleaning debris from storm sewers, using plain water when washing cars and sweeping fertilizer off their driveways.

In addition to a school-wide recycling program, a student-managed composting program, an after-school science and garden club, Ferderbar has a group of students helping to keep the school green and healthy.

“I have 10 kids who measure flow rates on faucets and toilet flushes and we call in, “Do-dad” parents, from a variety of fields to help out the school,” she explained. “One parent is a plumber and he will try to get repairs done on leaking toilets and sinks. The kids know that it is important to fix those to save water every day. I also connected with the DNR to get tablets to do this and network with other people to try to make a bigger impact.”

St. Mary Parish School principal, Linda Joyner, nominated Ferderbar for the academic award. The nomination detailed Ferderbar’s ability to accommodate each of her student’s learning style and bring educational concepts to life.

“It is commonplace, for students to dissect, build, grow, write, sing, solve fictitious crimes, create visual representations, graphic organizers and even dress up like elements to demonstrate their knowledge,” said Joyner. “She empowers her students with the knowledge, skills and inspiration they need to take action and make a positive difference in the community.”

Becoming a parochial school teacher requires passion, as Ferderbar explained that juggling life and teaching is challenging.

“There are many nights that I am up late working on assignments, grading papers or researching,” she said. “If I didn’t love my students, I would feel very stuck, but it is worth all of my time because I enjoy what I am doing and it is really fun, too.”

With six service-learning style science classes, Ferderbar no longer has time to teach religion, but she is zealous about integrating the Catholic faith with her teaching methods; and not all lessons include science.

“Last year we worked with refugees from Myanmar and donated 150 backpacks for them, and this year we made tied quilts, and all of the classes made five of these. We did this with our “Little Buddies,” too, so one of my classes made 10,” she said. “We tried to extend the connection to these children some more so it is not just a one-time backpacks, and we are done. We had a lady come in from Catholic Services, who was a refugee at one time. She talked about the struggle for kids and what it was like growing up; so we worked with human concerns and decided to extend our service to quilts this year.”

As a practicing Catholic, working in a Catholic school and reaching out to students through science and faith is part of the mission that God calls one to do, explained Ferderbar.

“Our school mission statement says, ‘Live Jesus’ and it is the tagline of St. Francis de Sales; his motto was to live Jesus and every year we add a layer to this. This year we added Living Jesus with Passion and Purpose, as Matthew Kelly wrote about in his books,” she said. “Each year we focus on the way in which we can ‘live Jesus’ and all that we do aligns with that. We look for opportunities to bring about his Father’s Kingdom, in the here and now. If we are more in tune with the needs of those around us, we are more aware of and present to the occasions to make this world a better place. It’s not like this is some lofty, unattainable goal. Service is a natural outgrowth, part of who we become.”