LCHS: Shines the Spotlight on Ms. Compeau

“Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.” ~Anonymous

Students often ask teachers a classic question: “How am I going to apply this information in real life?” As students focus on mastering the fundamentals and earning top-notch grades before college, they may find it difficult to see beyond the classroom. That’s why Ms. Patty Compeau has committed so much of her time to helping the students of LCHS  put their skills into practice and explore future careers in science.

This year, she has worked tirelessly to implement two STEM classes, Biotechnology Institute and Medical Institute, presently offered during the STEP (Student Teacher Enrichment Program) period. As she noted, “Essentially, I think careers in the medical health fields will be incredibly important for the next several generations; and these students have the potential to be leaders.”

According to her vision, these classes are about more than lectures and exams. She uses them as platforms to get the students researching and presenting their findings on subjects they hope to pursue. She also continuously discovers and shares practical opportunities for them to grow in their fields, whether through summer internships or by examining available college programs. “We are so fortunate to be in Southern California, a hub of incredible medical and college experiences--City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai, UCLA, USC, University of La Verne, Occidental College, and the list goes on.”

Perhaps, the most surprising aspect of her hard work is that she currently does it as a volunteer. She officially retired in 2014. A life-time member of the community, she attended La Canada schools before earning a bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Redlands. Always a hard worker, she maintained three jobs while attending college. She then considered a career in medicine, but ultimately decided to pursue a master’s in education with a life teaching credential in biological sciences from Stanford University. Afterward, she returned to La Canada to begin her work.

Beginning in 1974,  Ms. Compeau taught classes ranging from 7/8 physical science and math to high school biology (including honors and AP),  chemistry (including honors), and life science. Over the years, she has led many of her students out of the classroom and into the field on numerous trips and summer study programs to give them the opportunity to apply science.

She has made some impressive contributions, including the following:

  • For twenty-five years, she accompanied students attending the Yosemite Institute trip, the ecology field study program now known as Nature Bridge.

  • Along with fellow teacher Ms. Barbara Leach, she spent summers taking students to Peru for an Amazon field ecology study three times, and she took another group to Belize.

  • She chaperoned LCUSD students participating in KID SAT, a program formerly operated by JPL, that allowed students from schools across the United States to assist in the development of a camera for the space shuttle. Some students worked at JPL, mostly doing image analysis, and some went to to Houston to see astronaut training. She then traveled with others to see the shuttle’s launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. LCHS students were able to see images of Earth from space and communicate in real-time with the astronaut taking them and with students from other schools.

  • She has taken classes to L.A. Children’s Hospital to observe doctors doing kidney research.

  • She has served as the lead organizer of LCHS’s annual Showcase for three years, which began as part of a career mentoring program and honors accomplishments, features performances, and hosts presentations by the students.

  • She worked as the liaison for students participating in a summer internship through a JPL Native American outreach program.  

  • She has helped to develop curriculum and labs for Occidental College’s TOPS (Teachers + Occidental=Partnership in Science) as well as utilized valuable information shared by other educators. 

After retiring from her forty years of teaching, she still felt committed to guiding the next generation of scientists, so  she decided to get right back to work! As described by Principal Jim Cartnal, “Patty Compeau continues to give back to the campus as a fierce, loyal, and true friend of science at LCHS. She is the one-woman show behind the making of our 2015-16 Showcase presentation. Her clear love of supportive learning and celebrating student success is amazing.”

Often seen smiling while wheeling her teaching materials across campus to a classroom shared with a colleague, she exudes the joy of a true giver at work. According to Ms. Compeau, retirement has allowed her the opportunity to focus her  time and energy entirely on these classes, shaping them into what she always hoped they would be. “This stuff--the possibilities, the opportunities, the application--this is the most fun!”

Fueled by the excitement of new ideas and experimentation, she is thrilled to discover what the future of science in education will yield, “I love what’s happening with Common Core. The next generation of science standards are incredible.” Resourceful and innovative, she has collaborated with neighboring Crescenta Valley High School to give her students access to their dedicated biotechnology laboratory, where there is special equipment they can use for research.

According to Ms. Compeau, being a good scientist requires, “Being aware that failure is 80-90% of the time. Don’t ignore it; learn from it.”

Her favorite lessons to teach are on the subject of DNA science. “You get to see with your own eyes whether your student’s technique produces the results that you expect. Also, the micropipettes are really fun to work with. They are the same technology used in real-life labs every day.”

She attributes her ability to connect with her students to listening to their point of view. “The learning is more important than the teaching. I heard a saying that stuck with me, ‘Ecology is the theatre, environment is the stage, and the organism is the actor.’ The drama of your instruction needs to include the student.”

In addition to providing students with an excellent scientific foundation, she hopes to impart the importance of manners, both emotional and intellectual, and ethics including honesty. She advises that, “Collaboration is critical. Being a part of a team is more important than being recognized as brilliant by yourself. What is happening in medicine now is people are working together. Remember there is always room for enthusiasm and kindness."