Biology is LifeAugust 30, 2013
by Laurie Jasper
Another first day back to school is just around the corner. For Phyllis Appler, it will be her first official day of retirement. Phyllis retired in June from Alvirne High School after teaching biology for 30 years. Although she will not be reporting for work at Alvirne, she intends to stay connected to the Alvirne community and her varied interests and activities will ensure that she remains active and fulfilled.
Phyllis was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Blacksburg, VA. She taught biology and physical science for three years in Pennsylvania while her husband, Dr. David Appler, attended optometry school there. Her husband was in the Navy and when he was transferred to Virginia, Phyllis obtained her master’s degree in biology from William and Mary College. Dr. Appler’s family had a summer place in Hillsborough, NH, so they later moved to New Hampshire.
“Alvirne has been a wonderful place to teach biology. It is the place with the unique campus, but it has always been the people who make it really special,” said Phyllis. Phyllis explained that there has always been a true sense of cooperation throughout the staff at Alvirne, and it made teaching various lessons much more effective for the students. “If I needed ovens for the yeast lab, baking pretzels, Barbara Boyd was right across the hall. If I decided to have students write evolution poems, I could check with Len Miller. If I needed a speaker to go with my Smart Board, Gerry Bastien would dig one up and Peter Jean would figure out how to get all the parts working together. If I forgot a potato or an onion for the cell structure microscope lab, Chef Buxton would just ask how many I needed,” said Phyllis. In sharing her experiences at Alvirne, Phyllis also talked about the land, saying, “If I wanted to teach ecological succession, I could show the students aquatic succession in the Alvirne Pond. Then we could walk to the fence by the barn and talk about microbial succession in a cow plop or head across the street and climb the hill until we found rocks with lichens and mosses beginning to grow on them to demonstrate primary succession. And, if we wanted to learn about genetic traits, students could go to the barn and adopt a cow and detail all of her traits, then choose a sire from a sire catalog that would improve the Alvirne herd if he were to father her calf!“
Principal Steven Beals, an Alvirne alumnus, remembers Phyllis’ active involvement in the school and the town. “Phyllis epitomizes what it means not just to live and work in a community but to really be a part of the fabric of that community. She is a community gem,” Beals said. “When we look at all the service projects she involved her students in, what she has cultivated at Benson Park, she made learning interesting, fun and active,” Beals continued. Beals shared, “In the world of cleaning out her classroom of 30 years of work, Phyllis found a paper my brother John had completed in 1985 It was an example of ‘exemplary work’ and she gave it to me. I wrapped it up and gave it to my brother for Christmas.” Phyllis recalled, “Every year I had my students make a plant collection, using plant presses and herbarium paper. We had a herbarium cabinet and everything. The goal was to have an Alvirne herbarium and examples of all different plants to show.”
Toward the conclusion of Mr. Beals’ first year as Alvirne principal, he instituted a new recognition process to select teacher of the year and para-professional of the year as nominated by the staff. Beals was proud to present the 2013 Teacher of the Year Award to Phyllis Appler at the final all-school assembly at the dress rehearsal for the graduating seniors. Phyllis received a standing ovation from everyone in the crowded gymnasium. Phyllis was also recognized at a luncheon with other retirees at a later date.
In addition to her teaching, Phyllis connected the generations of Alvirne faculty and staff. She stayed in contact with those who had retired and would email updates regularly. Phyllis was pleased to learn that she will be receiving updates now from her successor, math teacher and Alvirne alumna Suzanne Sawyer.
Phyllis’ love for biology and nature continues outside the classroom, and includes her wide collection of nature inspired jewelry. When we met, she was proudly wearing a pretty birdcage necklace, with a bird inside and a cat on top. This was a gift from her final group of students, who also threw her a surprise party, complete with biology related theme and even a special yearbook, which they all signed.
Phyllis will continue as co-president with Linda Kipnes of the GFWC Hudson Community Club, whose big project is the beautiful butterfly garden at Benson Park.
She is also Outreach Chair of the state GFWC NH and Missions Chair at Main Street United Methodist Church in Nashua.
She will also remain on Alvirne’s Farm Committee, which started the Community Garden at Alvirne. “The Community Garden is neat because it connects everything I do,” said Phyllis. Approximately five years ago, several families from Burundi, Africa arrived in Nashua at church and didn’t speak any English. They help farm a plot of the Community Garden.
For the immediate future, Phyllis and her husband are preparing for their son Doug’s wedding at the end of September. Daughter Vivian is working on her PhD in theater practice at the University of Pittsburgh.
“My career ends on a very high note, to be teacher of the year, my last year, is very special,” Phyllis said, with emotion.
Phyllis Appler certainly is a Hudson Community gem.