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Michele Brustolon, an eighth-grade science teacher at Woodbury Middle School, shows off a slimy companion (a lump sucker fish) aboard NOAA's ship Oscar Dyson. (COURTESY))

Salem teacher tells tales of the sea

SALEM -- Asked how she spent her winter vacation, longtime Woodbury Middle School science teacher Michele Brustolon just might have the best story yet.

Brustolon, whose been teaching eighth-grade science at the local middle school for the past nine years, spent two days in December presenting her scientific findings on the floor of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in December.

The Freemont resident was one of three American teachers invited to participate in the institute's "The Scientist Is In" series, following her experiences in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Teacher at Sea program.

Sharing her seafaring experiences with museum-goers much like she's done with her students was quite an honor, Brustolon said, since teachers all over the country participate in the Teacher at Sea program each year but only a few are invited to the Smithsonian.

Her journey began in early 2010, when Brustolon submitted an application for NOAA's program, which brings educators out into the open water to experience ocean science firsthand.

"I've always loved the ocean," the veteran scuba diver said. "So when I heard about this opportunity, I knew it was a long shot but I just had to try."

By June, Brustolon found herself aboard NOAA's ship Oscar Dyson, afloat over the frigid waters of Alaska's East Bering Sea. The ship was her home for three weeks, and the experiences she took home with her are ones she relishes in sharing with her students.

Among her duties on the 39-passenger ship was an extremely hands-on survey of the area's walleye Pollock population, where she helped determine the health and age of the popular game fish, which is in high demand from the fishing industry.

"This ship was like a floating city," Brustolon said, recalling 12-hour workdays filled with such tasks as sizing, sorting and weighing each fish.

Looking around at her eclectic bunch of crewmembers, Brustolon's thoughts drifted to her students back home.

"Not everyone is cut out for a four-year college, but everyone is good at something," she said. "On this ship there were cooks and mechanics, scientists and assistants. But each one was just as important when it came to keeping the ship running."

Since her eighth graders study Earth science, incorporating her experiences into the curriculum has been challenging but rewarding.

"We don't do much with fish in this class, but we do study water, waves and weather," Brustolon said. "And using the knowledge I've taken with me, I've been able to guide the kids through the entire scientific process: they're now creating some experiments of their own."

As one of three teachers to travel to Washington last month (teachers from Alabama and Virginia accompanied her), Brustolon said it "was an amazing experience" to share slides of her Alaskan trip inside the National Museum of Natural History's Sant Ocean Hall.

"Being a Teacher at Sea doesn't stop when you get off that ship," she said.

Music teacher Patrick Moeschen, one of Brustolon's longtime co-workers, said that while his colleague tends to be modest about her accomplishments, there's no question her experiences have resonated with students. "Michele is a top-notch teacher whom the kids admire," he said.

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