Even from home, 3rd-year Fenwick Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger loves Western Civilization — and working with freshmen!
What is your educational background?
BJ: I went to high school in the southwest suburbs — Oak Lawn Community High School (’09). I have my B.A. in History from the University of Notre Dame (’13). My M.Ed. is from Notre Dame as well (’15).
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
BJ: I was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Heredia, Costa Rica, for nearly a year before coming to Fenwick. Before that, I taught World Geography & Cultures to freshmen at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas as part, of Notre Dame’s ACE Teaching Fellows program (2013-15).
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
BJ: It may not be for enjoyment, but it is almost impossible to avoid trying to stay current with the COVID-19 news. Aside from that, I am currently trying to finish The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
BJ: I really love to cook. Fall weekends are for ND football and the Green Bay Packers. Wednesday nights are Trivia Night for me. In the summer, I like to travel and try to get outside, whether it be for hiking, fishing, brunch, baseball games or something else. I also help out as a young adult leader for a youth group at my parish throughout the year.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
BJ: A little bit of everything. I played golf and ran XC/distance track. I also participated in student council, class advisory boards, student helpers and a really unique group called Cross Countries — not to be confused with cross country. Cross Countries was a small group of eight students who fund-raised over $40,000 in three years to complete an international service trip to Bolivia to help build a hospital. I even did a group interpretation theater production my senior year. I was also really active in my youth group, Foundations, at Old St. Pat’s in West Loop.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
BJ: I am the assistant debate coach and the assistant freshmen girls’ basketball coach. I also go on every Kairos [retreat] Mrs. Nowicki will let me!
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
BJ: In general, I think they push themselves and are gritty. Fenwick is not the ‘easy’ choice; students are challenged here. That said, the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Our students come out on the other end far ahead of their peers and ready to lead. And, in the end, they still wish they had “FOUR MORE YEARS!”
A Fenwick junior from Oak
Park offers up a web log on how a nine-day ‘fieldtrip’ to Central America was life
By Ben Groll ’21
It was Tuesday, July 30,
2019. Our flight to Costa Rica landed late the night before, and after three
hours of sleep, my roommate Vince’s alarm woke us up. Three hours of sleep is
not great, so my three other roommates and I were understandably exhausted. The
previous day’s traveling had drained us, and as we all start to get packed,
Vince moved the blinds, and we looked out the window. I did not take a picture,
but I see it as clearly now as I see this paper: The sight of a massive
mountain towering in the sky as the sun rose behind it. I saw the bright rays
of pink and red from the rising sun blasting through the dark blues of night,
mixing to create a beautiful sight that is unlike any I had ever seen. The “Ecology
of the Rainforest” trip was just that: unforgettable, breathtaking and
rainforest of Costa Rica acted as an excellent background to our ever-changing
trip, as our experiences each day were different from the last. Our first day
was spent traveling to Tortuguero, and even the several hour bus ride was fun.
All around us, we witnessed the breathtaking sights of the country, from banana
trees to mountains and everything in between. We even saw a sloth during
breakfast. What followed was a unique ride to our hotel, and our form of
transportation did not involve wheels. We spent an hour on a boat that took us
to our secluded hotel, and we spent the next three days exploring the surrounding
wildlife. We were able to live inside the magnificent rainforest for multiple
days and experience its wonders first-hand. On one of our boat rides, however,
the first-hand nature of our trip backfired. While on our boat, gentlemen’s
volleyball coach and English teacher Mrs. Whitman had an unfortunate encounter
with a caiman; an experience which she remembers as fondly as one would
remember an encounter with a caiman. The lurking caiman rushed through the
waters and tapped her side of the boat with a relatively small amount of force.
We were all surprised by it, and thankfully, nobody was hurt. Even our tour
guides were surprised by this encounter.
The trip was very busy
but in a good way. One of the mornings, we were awoken around 4 a.m. by the
sound of howler monkeys as they were just waking up. The ambient sounds of the
rainforest had woken us on plenty of the mornings, and this was no exception.
The busy-ness of the trip left little to be desired in terms of time spent
sleeping. Still, the incredible coffee and excitement of our time there kept me
energized the entire way.
The sheer awe and
amazement of the sights around us is a theme of this trip. Arguably, the most
incredible sight I witnessed was when we saw turtles come from the ocean and
lay their eggs on the beach. This incredible process only occurs at night, and
we were fortunate enough to see multiple, one-meter-long turtles emerge from
the ocean, climb onto the beach, dig patches for their eggs, lay their eggs,
cover up the eggs to protect them, and crawl back into the sea as elegantly as
they came from it. The lengths at which these turtles go to protect their eggs,
and their growing young, is remarkable and heartwarming. As we were waiting for
our time to view the turtles, we waited on the side of the beach, and there I
witnessed another one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen in my
life: the clearest night sky filled with a seemingly infinite amount of stars.
On the trip, we took part
in ecotourism, which is the process in which tourists experience nature first
hand, but in a way that supports the environment and leaves little to no
footprint on it. The country of Costa Rica does an incredible job of lowering
its reliance on fossil fuels and relying on renewable energy, and its impact is
clear. Their commitment to sustaining the environment was awesome to learn
about, and it helped me see the efforts required to sustain this world of ours.
While it seems complicated, it’s quite simple, and the impact is huge. We
witnessed this impact while on the beach before we saw the turtles. Mr. Menich,
my classmates and I sat on the beach and witnessed the sheer beauty of the
night sky. The stars dotted the dark sky and gave it a blue hue; all while
shooting stars temporary lit up the dark blue sky. The untainted atmosphere
here sharply contrasts that of Chicago, and this is a testament to Costa Rica’s
incredible ability to reduce emissions and help the environment. And the
results are breathtaking.
The Costa Rica trip was all part of the Ecology of the Rainforest course offered during the second semester at Fenwick. Each week, we were to complete modules online. The only time I spent in a classroom for this course was when I took tests and did the final presentation. While on the trip, we were split into groups and researched a specific aspect of the ecology of the rainforest. My group was assigned to research gene flow in plant populations. During our trip, we were able to see this gene flow through the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Both work together and benefit each other, and an example of this was with hummingbirds and Heliconias. On multiple hikes, we saw the curved Heliconias flower, which is specially adapted for the long beaks of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds’ beaks go into the heliconia flower, and the pollen is sneakily put onto the hummingbird’s forehead by the heliconia. Once the hummingbird reaches another heliconia, the pollen on its forehead pollinates that plant, and the cycle repeats. This incredible symbiotic relationship showcases the harmony in the rainforest, which I would not have been able to fully grasp had I not taken this course and gone on this trip.