Thomas Jefferson

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Shaping Science

Posted 05/27/2016 by Sean McNearney

Brett Butera always finds time to help his students when they need it. photo by Sean McNearney

Butera combines his love of nature and teaching to get students excited about protecting their planet.

The science department at Thomas Jefferson High School has been providing students with unique opportunities to learn about the world for years. With classes like physics, biology, and the newest addition, anatomy, students are learning about the exciting world of science. For education about the planet that they live on, students should look no further than TJ’s resident Earth expert Brett Butera.

Butera was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Hocking Technical College, where he received his Associate’s degree in natural resources, recreation, and wildlife management. He also received his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Cleveland State University. Butera eventually decided to move to Denver, because of his love of Colorado’s mountains and to pursue his favorite hobby, rock climbing. It was in Denver that he obtained his teaching license from Metropolitan State University, and he has taught since then. Currently, he is studying for his master’s degree in biological science from Miami University of Ohio, through a program with the Denver Zoo.

Before coming to Colorado, Butera worked as an environmental educator in Connecticut, where he took students on trips into the mountains to teach them about nature. He eventually moved away from New England, but continued to work as an environmental educator all over the country, and helped cook in several restaurants for extra money. Butera first came to Colorado in 1998, where he worked at a Y.M.C.A. camp in Rocky Mountain National Park as an assistant rock climbing guide. It was here that Butera discovered that education was his true passion, and decided to become a teacher in order to continue helping youth learn how to protect and preserve the environment.

Currently, Butera teaches Earth Science and Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science at TJ. In his classes, Butera discusses the planet and the effects humans are having on it. It is here that Butera tries to teach his students to be more sustainable and environmentally cautious. “My favorite thing about teaching is the impact I can have on students,” he explained, “to help guide them, and be influential in a positive way.” He aims to influence his students, especially since they may be the ones influencing the world in the future. “AP Environmental Science has really taught me about how bad humans are to the planet,” said junior Evan Domagala. “It has opened my eyes, and I now know how important it is to take better care of [the planet].”

Though he teaches serious subject matter, Butera tries to make his classes fun. A natural entertainer, he has no problem speaking in front of crowds. “I’m very loud,” he said, “and I’m not afraid to embarrass myself.” This attitude has made his students appreciate him and enjoy his class. “He makes the class fun,” explained junior Brodie Eastridge. “I walk in wondering what hilarious thing he’s going to say next.”

Outside of teaching, Butera’s passion is rock climbing. He first experienced it at Estes Park, and hasn’t stopped since then. He has climbed in other states like Kentucky and West Virginia, but enjoys Colorado’s rocks the most. Rock climbing is one of the reasons he decided to live in Colorado, where he plans to live for a long time.

Butera has been teaching for many years and still loves it; however, he has looked to the future regarding what to do after retiring from his teaching career. His future plans would encompass taking care of national parks, perhaps by volunteering. His end goal is to become a park ranger, maintaining the parks full time, where he would be able to continue educating young minds about the wonders of the outdoors. Currently, Butera is developing a citizen science program in Rocky Mountain National Park that is designed to get kids involved in real climate and forest ecology research.

Butera aims to inspire young people to care about their world, since they will be the ones taking care of it in the future. “Mr. Butera has inspired me to care more about the planet,” said Domagala. With years of experience under his belt, and plenty of students to follow in his footsteps, Butera is far from ending his quest of saving the planet.