WILLENE BIERE, CANYON SPRINGS HIGH SCHOOL
Jan. 22, 2014
Our Teacher Spotlight series continues this month with an educator who has participated in multiple UCCI Institutes as a course developer and facilitator. Willene Biere is a teacher and the director of the Business Academy at Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, where she has taught for 17 years.
Start chatting with Willie about education, and pretty soon you'll hear the phrase “aha moment.” Students who take the UCCI course Integrated Marketing and English at Canyon Springs, for example, regularly have aha moments in Willie's business classes. “When I start talking about marketing and marketing plans, they understand it,” she said. “They say, 'Oh, we know how to write this! We know the Four Ps.” The reason: their English teacher had already covered those Four Ps - product, price, placement, promotion— from the perspective of academic English.
“It's their aha moment when they realize, 'We already did this.' Because it's a repeat, they understand it better,” she said. Similar connections — between business and math — happen with students taking the UCCI Business Algebra 1 class. The integration of subjects makes it clear to students, Willie said, that “you can't do business without English and you can't do business without math.”
There have also been aha moments in the five UCCI Institutes in which Willie has participated. Often a team of course developers will begin by looking at the CTE and academic areas they need to integrate — engineering and geometry, for instance — without seeing any possibilities for connection. Then, as course-development teams often do as a starting point, they'll write on sticky notes all the points the two areas need to cover, and post them on the wall. “And when they see all the stickies up there, I think once they see that, they think, 'Oh, we can do that.' They're all separate, and then, all at once, they're together.”
The Institutes have been inspiring, Willie said. She has been a course developer and facilitator, and participated in the design of the UCCI courses taught at her school, plus another business algebra course. “I like the whole process. It's been a phenomenal experience for me as a teacher, to bring it back to the classroom.”
Her experiences with UCCI even sent her back to the classroom — a virtual one at Concordia University Irvine — as a student. “I'm in my last class for my master's in curriculum and instruction,” she said. “It was because of UCCI — writing the curriculum got me into it. At the first one I went to up in Monterey, it was so much fun being up there working with teachers that had the same passion, it just kind of inspired me to do better and work with this stuff.”
Willie's business background gave her real-world experience that was immediately appreciated when she interviewed for her first teaching job. With a marketing degree from Cal Poly Pomona, she was a financial service manager for First Interstate Bank and Transamerica Financial, and a statewide trainer for Gemco, “teaching them the ATM System that was brand-new way back then.” But when long days and late nights kept her away from her two small daughters, she applied to be a substitute teacher at Canyon Springs. She went to the school to interview on her lunch hour — and was hired on the spot.
Canyon Springs High is particularly open to UCCI courses because there are three California Partnership Academies at the campus — Health, Business and Creative Technology — “and they're very interested in integration.” The cross-curricular approach results in some exciting projects for students, such as a career brochure created by sophomore students in the Business Academy. Before publication, the brochure was reviewed by the English, science and social studies teachers. Now it's a resource in the Career Center.
And she's seen an increase in the overall GPAs of the students who go through the Business Academy — an improvement she attributes not only to the academies requirement that student keep their grades up, but also to integrated curriculum. “We've hooked them,” she said, “and they're more interested in the subject because they see, 'Oh, I can use this in real life.' "