CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 8, 2020) – When Mari Jones, a teacher at Zama Middle High School, applied for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Science Ambassador Fellowship a few months ago, COVID-19 was not yet on the public’s radar.
By the time Jones found out the CDC had selected her in April, however, it was clear she had received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help her students learn about public health, a subject that has changed their lives immensely.
“As it turns out, sadly, this fellowship’s relevancy has increased in magnitude by 1,000,” Jones said.
For the fellowship, Jones plans to travel to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta for a five-day interactive course in July and spend the rest of the year through June distance learning. She has her fingers crossed that the CDC does not cancel the portion in Atlanta due to COVID-19 concerns.
Jones, an Air Force veteran, has a background in public health. She worked in public health when she was in the Air Force and later earned a master’s degree in the subject. She also holds bachelor’s degrees in exercise science and history, a master’s degree in education, and works as a science, social studies, health and physical education teacher at ZMHS, where she has taught since 2016.
Jones said she is constantly on the CDC website, regardless of whether she is teaching science, health or social studies.
“I know it might sound odd to relate social studies to the CDC, but one of the enduring themes in history is disease,” Jones said. “As long as there’s been civilization, there’s been disease, and as we’re seeing now, disease has the power to shape society. So it’s a way of weaving together science, health and history so that students feel their content is relevant and integrated.”
Jones said she expects the fellowship to help her speak more intelligently and articulately about real-time data and technology in the public health and science community.
Students need to know how and where to find reliable, valid information and transfer it into knowledge and wisdom, Jones said.
“We’re at a critical time in education where our students are all 21st century students, and yet many of us teachers were taught and learned in a 20th century model, and this is just another way of doing my duty to make sure I am transforming myself into the 21st century educator my students deserve,” Jones said.
Jones, who enlisted after 9/11 with two semesters left to go in college, said she recognizes the importance of her job as a teacher, especially when she considers that some of her students are entering the military after high school and could soon have significant responsibilities.
“I enlisted, and I’m so glad I did,” Jones said. “That experience, there’s just nothing like it. There’s nothing like being a part of the military. It really engrains a sense of civic duty, which is why I ended up becoming a teacher.”
Jones said she began working for DoDEA as a substitute teacher in Lakenheath High School in the United Kingdom in 2008, and received her own classroom as a full-fledged teacher in 2013.
Jones said the CDC also offers fellowships for high school students, and she has encouraged her students to apply; one has already applied for two. Although the deadline for this year’s fellowship has passed, students can find information at https://www.cdc.gov/fellowships/short-term/high-school.html.
According to the CDC website, more than 500 teachers have participated in the Science Ambassador Fellowship for teachers since it began in 2004.
The summer course includes interaction with CDC scientists, discussions with public health scientists on current topics; seminars with Epidemic Intelligence Service officers; the development of lesson plans; a tour of the CDC and more, according to the CDC website.
After the summer course the fellows will work with CDC scientists to finalize their teaching materials; pilot public health lesson plans in the classroom; present public health lesson plans to local teachers; and consult with middle and high school teachers nationwide on public health-based resource materials, according to the CDC website.
Before going to Atlanta, fellows must complete a short course online in public health, and it’s available to anyone who wants to take it at https://www.cdc.gov/publichealth101/index.html.