Hayden In an understated way, Dean Massey calls his background "unusual."
The Hayden High School science teacher has bachelor's and master's degrees in biochemistry population genetics. He has published research in the field and directed Colorado's mine land reclamation program. When he wanted a change, he attended law school at night and opened a firm, where he specialized in environmental law.
Before moving to Steamboat Springs more than three years ago, he and his family spent four years sailing around the world.
Massey then decided to move to teaching, which eventually brought him to where he is now. He recently won a $1,000 grant and a plaque through the Boettcher Foundation Teacher Recognition Awards Program. Boettcher Scholar and Hayden graduate Janna Hoza nominated him.
"He's just worked a lot to get the students more interested and involved in the curriculum and really tried to bring in a lot of stuff from outside to improve the quality of the science program," said Hoza, who is preparing to start classes at the University of Denver. "And I appreciated that because I figured the money would go to good use and he would continue in that effort."
Hoza took biology and college biology from Massey.
"He's very involved," she said. "He doesn't just lecture to you in a boring way; he tries to involve his students hands-on with the discussion."
Massey said he was going to use "Janna's award" to buy new equipment. Hayden students are still behind in the technology arena, he said. He helped persuade Routt County to donate 30 computers to Hayden this summer.
"I'm all about getting technology, getting kids up to par and beyond," Massey said. "They're as smart as anybody."
He's been working to improve the lab where he teaches chemistry and biology courses and a class of his own invention, natural resources science.
The course, which he started last year, is a source of pride for Massey. Students choose topics that interest them and develop individual or small-group projects. Subjects have included scuba diving (with underwater welding in mind), taxidermy, oil and gas, mining, wildlife management and more, he said.
Massey sends students to businesses and experts in the Yampa Valley to learn and work.
"It's taking advantage of local resources and science in the community," he said as he sat next to a stuffed coyote head labeled "Fluffy."
Through the class, and by telling stories of his past careers, Massey said he teaches his students that science is applicable to life. The toughest part, Massey said, is getting students who want to be told what to do to take charge of their learning.
"Forcing kids to take the initiative is huge in my philosophy," Massey said.
High School Principal Troy Zabel has supported him completely, he said. Massey added that teachers across the district were pushing to expand and improve their curriculum.
"This kind of effort is going on in every discipline in this school," he said. "We're raising expectations."
Massey said he plans to stick around for a while. Although moving to the Hayden district from a life at sea was an adjustment, he said he was happy in his place.
"All you have to do is show you care about the kids here, and the community will accept you," Massey said with a smile.