From studying microscopic beetles to administering a school, Sydney Young uses her science background to understand her teachers and lead effectively.
Drawing parallels from her earlier studies in botany and entomology, Sydney Young, director at Early Light Academy in South Jordan, focuses on minute details to help her keep everything moving in the right direction.
Since Young was a little girl, she has been fascinated with plants and animals. As a student at Brigham Young University, she used a scanning electron microscope to better see the details of nature that are usually unseen by the rest of the world.
“I remember from my master’s program studying a beetle that could walk on the bottom of a stream while maintaining a bubble for air,” Young said. “The beetle actually makes an air bubble that traps oxygen and functions as a gill, allowing oxygen to diffuse from the surrounding water into the air bubble.”
Young earned a double bachelor’s degree in conservation biology and composite biology teaching, a teaching license, and a master’s degree in botany with an emphasis in biological science education. She uses her experience from seeing the small, intricate details in nature to help teachers, students, and community members adapt to change and grow in their abilities.
“As much as I love my science concepts, I love my relationships with others more,” Young said. “My students from my first year of teaching are now graduating high school. It’s great to get their [graduation] invites . . . it means I made a difference in their lives.”
In 2009 Early Light Academy, then under construction, was looking for a seventh and eighth grade integrated science teacher. Once construction was completed, Young was hired to teach science.
“There’s nothing more frustrating and more rewarding than being in education,” Young said. “Things change in education, and you need to be willing to adapt and evolve to the change. The only thing constant in the world is change, so teachers need to be really adaptable.” Young continued, “The beetle is relatively small and nearly imperceptible to the naked eye, but it’s a magnificent adaptation that has evolved over time. Insects constantly have to adapt to changes in humidity, temperature, and climate. It’s [an effective] parallel to education [with its] constant shifts in accountability, measuring, and adapting to changing rigor, core curriculum, and assessments.”
After Young’s first year of teaching, her administrator, Wade Glathar, invited her to join him as a part-time administrator. “Glathar said the critical thinking skills from my science background made me a great fit as an administrator,” Young said. The following year Young worked with Glathar and learned how to become an effective leader. Four years later, Glathar handed over the leadership of Early Light Academy to Young, as he left to become an administrator of another school.
During her last five years as administrator Young has watched the school adapt and change. When Early Light Academy first opened it was on a seven-period day; however, part way through the first school year the teachers got together and approached the school board about changing to a block schedule and adding a period for student electives.
“We wanted to do what we felt was best for students and were willing to go the extra mile to do so,” Young said. “We are still on the block schedule six years later and have expanded our elective options further, which has benefited students in many ways as they prepare for high school and college.”
Even though Young misses being in a classroom teaching science, she enjoys the challenge of finding a balance between being an administrator and a teacher. “One thing that I always come back to in teaching and administrating is trying to find a balance of giving teachers autonomy,” Young said. “At Early Light Academy we give teachers a lot of autonomy in their classrooms to do what they think is best for their students, but they are still held accountable for student outcomes, teaching the core, using the curriculum, and following a year-long plan.”