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Teacher Feature: Lara McDonald

By Barbara P. Jacoby

Etowah HS teacher Lara McDonald has a not-so-secret alternate identity: Mrs. Frizzle. The amazing educator from The Magic School Bus TV series influences McDonald’s adoption of costumes, singing, and skits to engage students in her science classes.

It’s a winning formula, as McDonald’s students learn from and love her environmental science classes, and colleagues see her as a role model — they nominated her as Etowah’s Teacher of the Year. Last spring, a committee of retired educators and community leaders honored McDonald with the top title of Cherokee County School District 2023 Teacher of the Year. She now advances to the Georgia Teacher of the Year awards program, which will be announced in spring 2024.

“I love connecting with students and sharing my ideas and stories with them in crazy and unique ways,” McDonald, a 13-year educator, said of her teaching style.

Among her favorite lessons are “zombie attack,” through which students analyze macromolecules in foods to see which foods will slow the zombies; “biohazard zone” with a DNA analysis to identify symptoms students should expect that night; and “murder mystery,” for which students, as detectives and forensic specialists, solve a murder using blood typing techniques.

“All of these engage my students in hands-on learning while captivating their minds to critically think about the situations and utilize their content knowledge to solve the problems,” McDonald said.

Another example of an engaging, real-world lesson is “The Tragic Case of Stan,” a lab simulation focused on the challenge of antibiotic resistant infections such as MRSA (methylene resistant staphylococcus aureus).

“My students take samples of Stan’s persistent rash and, using bacterial plating techniques, isolate the bacterial stains involved,” she said. “Antibiotic resistance assays are performed to determine effective antibiotics. Then, my students create and prescribe their treatment plan for Stan. This critical lesson reminds students that different bacterial strains require different antibiotics. They see, as more bacterial strains become resistant to our antibiotics, the fewer treatment options we may have.”

Beyond her classroom, McDonald extends her positive influence on students through sponsoring after-school activities including the Envirothon Team as well as the Anime, Progressive, Dungeons and Dragons, and Tabletop Games Clubs. Through her volunteerism with the Atlanta Science Festival, McDonald again brings “Mrs. Frizzle” to life to help kids of all ages learn more about science.

What can parents do to help their child be as successful as possible at school?

“I would encourage parents to openly communicate more frequently with their students about mental health and the demands from school,” McDonald said. “Students are taking on more after school activities along with more rigorous classes. Many are sleeping less while trying to perform at their best both physically and academically. Students pressure themselves to attain extremely high goals that may be unrealistic. I see increasing stress levels taking a toll on my students, and I highly encourage parents to take a more active role in initiating conversations with their students and their teachers about the pressures of school.”