Julie Kirsch and Leslie Lynch had a lot to say about their experiences as Tiger Woods Learning Center teachers. Both women hail from the Sunshine State, and they visited the TWLC in Anaheim to share their success stories from the TWLC-Florida campus and to receive training on TWLC best practices. Kirsch and Lynch run the TWLC campus in Stuart, Fla., open to sixth and seventh graders, at Murray Middle School. Murray hosts a total of three, 10-week forensic science sessions throughout the year. Typically, between 40-50 students enroll in each session.
Situated in a small Florida town, Murray is a Grade 6-8 middle school with a student body of 800. Kirsch and Lynch fondly describe the school's surrounding neighborhood as quaint and quiet.
"It's a lower-income neighborhood, but people look out for each other," Kirsch said. "The Tiger Woods Learning Center program has been very helpful for the neighborhood."
Lynch has been teaching for a total of 10 years, and her good friend Kirsch has been teaching for 13. Both are currently full-time, eighth-grade science teachers at Murray. When Murray was chosen to be the site of the Florida campus, they volunteered to become TWLC teachers under the guidance of TWLC Vice President and Executive Director Kathy Bihr and Murray Principal Kit Weir, who were instrumental in getting the program to Murray.
Both teachers said the program targets kids who are not normally excited about school through a more hands-on, personal approach. Kirsch and Lynch work with these students to help them build their self-confidence and to let them know that they can succeed if they put their minds to it.
"We wanted kids from all backgrounds," Kirsch said. "We especially wanted to motivate girls, to encourage their interest in science."
In the TWLC forensic science program at Murray, students learn exciting techniques through chemistry and advanced computer programs to solve a crime mystery presented at the beginning of each session. Students become scientists themselves as they try to investigate the identity of "the intruder." TWLC members learn various forensic science techniques, such as collecting evidence left behind, how to dust for fingerprints, digitally recreating the intruder's portrait on their computers and analyzing data by chromatography. They also went on a field trip to the local sheriff's office to see a real crime lab. At the end of the 10-week sessions, Kirsch and Lynch reveal to their anxious students the true identity of "the intruder."
When asked about the students' reaction to the TWLC forensic science program, Kirsch and Lynch shared exciting news.
"All the kids love the program! They tell all their friends about it. Some have even asked if they can do the program again, even though they'll be learning the same thing. Our students have come a long way. The kids are participating more, both in their normal classes and in the program. Grades are getting better and so has confidence."
Kirsch and Lynch also choose two student helpers during each session.
"The opportunity helped to bring out their personalities. It gives them something to be proud of," said Kirsch. "One helper started out being very quiet and shy, but being a student helper has really gotten her to open up."
"The program has been really good for our school," Lynch said. "The kids couldn't believe that the TWLC picked Murray. It made them feel really special. When Tiger came to our school, it was such a big deal. We were so impressed with our kids. They were very respectful. We were worried that they'd flip out, but the kids were very cool. They said, 'Can you believe he talked to us?' They saw him as a hero. Tiger was genuinely very kind.
"There's so much more freedom in this program compared to teaching a regular class."
Both women said that they had to break up their spring session into two classes this year because so many kids wanted to sign up.
Lynch and Kirsch both agreed that they "have as much or more fun than the kids." They are proud and excited that they get to teach relevant life skills to their students, skills, Kirsch said, "that they can use as they go on to high school and college."