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Understanding STEM across the globe

“I saw a lot of bees here this morning,” Lily Dancy-Jones says on a summer morning, and she is hardly complaining. A science teacher at Erwin High School in Buncombe County since 2013, last spring, Dancy-Jones organized the effort that built and maintains the school’s Pollinator Garden.

A tidy outpost of greenery, flowers, and other natural elements, the garden is likely one of the most unique mini-ecosystems you’ll find tucked into the side of high school’s main building. It’s hardly a novelty, though — instead its part of a movement to save the future of rapidly declining bee populations, a cause Dancy-Jones sees as a teachable moment for her biology and environment science classes.

The garden may be just over a year old, but it looks like it’s been there for a fruitful spell already. School staff, along with family and friends, donated the more than 20 species of plants that invite the pollinators to stay in a setting designed just for them — one complete with a bee house of bamboo chambers that key species of the pollinators seek out for shelter.

“Right now, we have holes of different sizes getting filled up, so it’s a good sign to me,” Dancy-Jones says. She’s quick to add that the garden also serves as a migration station for some of the shrinking numbers of monarch butterflies.

A Raleigh native whose parents have both worked in education, Dancy-Jones graduated from UNC-Asheville in December 2012, eventually earning degrees in biology and environmental studies, while obtaining her teaching licensure (and playing first cello in the UNCA symphony). A three-year paid internship studying fish communities in the Nolichucky Watershed with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife solidified her interest in science education.

Now, Dancy-Jones is eager to visit Indian schools to advance both her knowledge base and teaching skills, as well as gain new perspectives on how the world works.

“I think I’ve led a pretty sheltered life,” she says. “I’ve lived in this state my entire life and traveled some in this country and Canada, but I’ve never been exposed to a lot of different cultures and what poverty can really look like — even though of course we see plenty of poverty where we are” in Buncombe County, she adds.

India holds particular promise for her as a science teacher, she says. In her classes, “One of the emphases that we’re looking at right now is globalization. India is on the other side of the world, but there are people who travel from India to here to work in STEM fields.”

What’s more, she says, “I grew up in Research Triangle Park, where a lot of my friends’ parents working in those fields were immigrants. India’s definitely a leader in terms of their STEM education, so I think we can learn a lot about what’s working there and what we can bring home for our students.”

“It’s going to help me be a more well-rounded person,” Dancy-Jones says of the upcoming trip. “I’m really interested in Indian culture, the food, the colors, what seems to be a beautiful place. It’s a country that I don’t think I could visit on my own, so this is going to give me the opportunity to find more value in my own life and also be able to share with students.”

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is an Asheville-based writer and the senior editor at WNC magazine. He has authored two books, including, with co-author Kent Priestley, North Carolina Curiosities. He has contributed to Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, U.S. News & World Report and Popular Communications, among other publications.