Juan Diego named best biology teacher of the year

Connecting • Instructor uses pop culture to help kids learn anatomy, physiology.
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Draper • Christine Celestino wasn't a fan of anatomy class when she was a student. Memorizing Latin and Greek names of muscles didn't hold her attention.

Then how does the doctorate-holder find herself teaching anatomy and other biology classes at Juan Diego?

"I think because I didn't really like it so much when I was younger is why [students] seem to like the way I teach it now," Celestino said. "I teach it in a way I would have liked when I was taking it.

"I try to figure out ways to make it interesting and relatable, to keep their attention. Otherwise, memorizing a bunch of Latin names is just terrible."

She does this by appealing to the teenage crowd. It can be as simple as using the films such as Avatar and Star Wars in a lesson plan on how to tell which characters are "good" and which are not. It's all about locating the sternocleidomastoid muscle — the large one that stretches down the neck from the skull to the clavicle.

"To help them remember that one, I was talking about how in Avatar and Star Wars and Star Trek, they use this muscle [in the neck] to show humanoid aliens," Celestino said. "James Cameron gave the Na'vi people sternocleidomastoids so we would look at them and be sympathetic to them.

"If you watch Star Wars and Star Trek, the good aliens have sternocleidomastoids and the evil aliens do not."

In the world of education, Celestino definitely is one of the "good guys." She recently earned the honor as Utah's Biology Teacher of the Year, presented by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Celestino, who earned her doctoral degree at the University of Utah, received the recognition as much for her work outside the classroom as in it. She helped create and organize Juan Diego's Academy of Sciences — a program geared toward encouraging students to pursue careers in science, engineering, match and technology — and created the Summer Science Internship Program

She also is the adviser of the school's Pre-Med Club and has developed internship programs, among several extracurricular activities on her calendar.

She also seems to get through to her students.

"She does a lot of labs and talks a lot about the practical applications of what we are learning," said senior Marley Lebrecht. "It's not just about the vocabulary."

Said senior Alex Gudac: "She's outstanding, different from a lot of other teachers. There's a lot of hands-on experience that really gets you in the mode and goes into your long-term memory."

Through the internship program, Juan Diego students serve summer internships at the University of Utah. Senior Elodie Gourgeon studied the encephalitis virus' role in epilepsy during her internship, and is a student in Celestino's Anatomy & Physiology and Concurrent Human Biology classes.

"She knows almost anything," Gourgeon said. "You can ask her a question, and she'll know about it. She really makes it interesting and makes you want to look into it further, and get more information for yourself."

Celestino became a teacher in 2006 after doing neuroscience research at the University of Utah. She said the award means her hard work improving as an educator has paid off.

"I don't necessarily see myself as being that special," said Celestino, who is originally from upstate New York. "I'm surrounded by really great teachers here.

"It's really nice to get the recognition. I've worked really hard and done a lot of professional development. It's something I've really had to focus on, to be a good educator. It's nice to hear recognition for that."


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Juan Diego's Christine Celestino was recently names the state's Biology Teacher of the Year by the Association of Biology Teachers.

Celestino has been teaching since 2006, and joined Juan Diego's staff after working as a neuroscience researcher at the University of Utah.

Celestino helped create Juan Diego's Academy of Science and Summer Science Internship Program.