Mrs. Bernard: An Animal Advocate and Spectacular Science Teacher

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Image: Sophia Byl

By Sophia Byl

Mrs. Bernard has taught quite an interesting variety of classes here at East – Forensics, Astronomy, the notoriously difficult AP Chemistry – but what really makes her stand out is what a kind and sympathetic person she is. Though her rigorous classes require time and hard work to succeed in, her dedication to understanding and assisting her students to the max leaves them prepared for what’s to come, whether it’s an AP exam, a real-life crime scene investigation, or a total solar eclipse.

Animals and nature are where Mrs. Bernard’s caring side really shines. “I was very into treating animals humanely from a young age,” she explained to me in our conversation, “probably about eight years old.” Mrs. Bernard’s interest in science was also something she discovered as a child. She was very naturally curious and “just couldn’t stop asking ‘why’ questions” about anything she encountered: something that you might have done too! She often had fun with chemistry sets to fulfill her curiosity, and although Mrs. Bernard never did get a dog as a child, she now owns two! She says they’re  polar opposites – “Oscar is very proper, and he never gets into trouble. Meanwhile, we’ll catch Chippy eating my mascara.”

Continuing this science path in college, Mrs. Bernard went for a double major in Chemistry and Biology at SUNY Geneseo. One of her favorite memories she mentioned was starting her own ecology club, where she led “nature and bird walks with the community”. She also was involved in undergraduate research on the propagation of orchid plants. It was fascinating, she remarked about the research experience, but difficult, since orchids are very particular about environmental conditions and could get moldy if something goes even slightly wrong. Mrs. Bernard also conducted research for her Master’s in Biology at UB, this time on the evolution of the red flour beetle. “I actually have some publications on that one,” she mentioned – how cool!

Now, Mrs. Bernard’s longtime love of science has led her to teach some of East’s most interesting and toughest science classes. She describes her teaching method as “trying to recognize what students might struggle with, and making that [specific] part of it easier,” and all the hands-on experiments and interactions she allows in class certainly help. This is super applicable in Forensics, where her class visited the Amherst Police Department and investigated a crime scene (a staged one, thankfully). Mrs. Bernard mentioned something I hadn’t considered much before: “Forensics is the best because a lot of people have some type of experience with CSI-type shows.” With true-crime podcasts and documentaries on the rise, Forensics is a class that likely appeals to a wide variety of students, especially considering the fact that you can earn college credit for it through Niagara University.

AP Chem, on the other hand, is infamous as one of Collegeboard’s most demanding courses in any subject, yet a high number of Mrs. Bernard’s students score a 5, the highest possible grade, on the AP exam. Her explanation for why she chose to teach AP Chem was simple and effective – “I love the challenge!” She also noted that she’s a “very analytical thinker” as opposed to being good at memorization, a helpful trait in a subject like chemistry where the entire field is cumulative.

Mrs. Bernard got an especially  fantastic opportunity this year in the form of teaching the Astronomy elective during a solar eclipse. “When I realized I was teaching Astronomy,” she said, “I knew I hadn’t done it for a while, but I thought, ‘What better time to teach it than now?’” And what better time indeed, than during the rare phenomenon of a total eclipse. Mrs. Bernard most enjoyed the field trips she and her class took to the planetarium at North High, hosted by the astronomy teacher there, Mr. Percy. During their visit, he did an “amazing presentation about solar eclipses” and really brought the hype for the eclipse up. While the cloudy weather meant that Mrs. Bernard wasn’t able to see much of the actual eclipse, she said the fact that it brought the Buffalo community together made it truly special to her. 

Outside of school, Mrs. Bernard’s love for all things nature-related is evident. Her hobbies include riding her bike, going for walks at Reinstein Woods, and travelling. One of her favorite vacations, she told me, was when her family visited Outer Banks, where they went kayaking in Alligator River (though they didn’t see any alligators). Mrs. Bernard also enjoys attending her children’s sports games, which range from baseball to football to flag football. She herself also enjoys playing softball, though she’s “not very good at it anymore”. 

Something Mrs. Bernard wishes to do in her future ties back to her passion for nature and animal rights. “My goal is to have a small animal rescue where dogs, cats, and farm animals can go where they need to be fostered,” she explained, and what a nice idea as well. Hopefully Mrs. Bernard’s project ends up becoming a reality, but regardless if it does, she’s making a difference either way for countless students at East!