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CVA’s Cipriano weaves literature, science and social issues together at summer institute

Photo of Mrs. Cipriano

A Mrs. Cipriano selfie on the California coast.

Ask CVA students where they would expect to find their English teacher Lyn Cipriano over the summer. One answer you would not hear is, “Dissecting squid in California.”

But that is just one of the many things Mrs. Cipriano did this summer as part of the 2016 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholars program held at the Steinbeck Institute in Salinas, Cal.

She was one of 25 teachers selected from across the country to be part of a three-week workshop entitled, “John Steinbeck: Social Critic and Ecologist.”

The week encouraged teachers to see life through the eyes of one of America’s greatest writers.

Most people know Steinbeck as the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner and writer of such famous novels as “Of Mice and Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “East of Eden.” Few people know he was a committed ecologist.

Steinbeck could not separate the realities of life from his writing. Social issues and ecology worked were interwoven into his great works. The workshop demonstrated how the humanities and sciences naturally fit together.

“Among the most amazing things that I learned about John Steinbeck through this course was his strong interests in ecology and conservation,” Mrs. Cipriano said.

“He was a very close friend of Edward Ricketts, one of the earliest ecologists and a resident of Monterey. Ricketts greatly influenced Steinbeck’s writing and style.  Steinbeck even made him a major character in one of his books, Cannery Row.”

Photo of teachers exploring a tidal pool.

Institute participant explore a tidal pool.

The scholars visited Steinbeck’s childhood home and California Rodeo Salinas (the state’s largest rodeo), went on a whale watch, and and explored a tidal pool. They also attended sessions at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, studying biology in the same classroom Steinbeck had studied in 1923.

“The Steinbeck Seminar was absolutely the greatest learning experience that I have had as an educator, and I feel very honored to have been a part of it,” she said.

Bringing the lesson home

Mrs. Cipriano’s summer experience ties into Central Valley’s focus on writing. Students at all levels are learning to write in all of their classes, from physical education to chemistry. At times, the effort seems awkward and disconnected, but the underlying goal is legitimate. Everyone needs the ability to clearly communicate about what they know. In the workplace, engineers, mechanics, and fast food employees have to effectively share ideas with co-workers and their customers. Those same skills are important in building strong personal relationships.

“Due to this strong connection between science and literature, I wrote my culminating project on STEM and The Grapes of Wrath.  I will be using this in my Honors English class this year,” she said.

Superintendent Rich Hughes said experiences such as this elevate the quality of teaching in the district. He believes Mrs. Cipriano will be even better able to demonstrate the power and importance of writing across all disciplines.

“Like all forms of communication, writing requires a person to gather information, then organize and present it in a way that makes sense to the recipient,” Dr. Huges said.

“Learning to write demonstrates knowledge of the subject and an ability to share that knowledge with others. This is a skill our students will use throughout their lives.”

photo of Mrs. Cipriano

Exploring Red Pony Ranch, setting for one of Steinbeck’s stories.