CJ Geraci – From Hunting Insects to Eating Crawfish

Great Hearts Harveston August 31, 2023

CJ Geraci

CJ Geraci is a science teacher at Great Hearts Harveston, the newest Academy and the first Great Hearts school to open in Louisiana. But before her new frontier in the Pelican State, Geraci taught science for Great Hearts in Arizona. “I started in 2016 as a middle school life science and 9th grade biology teacher at Cicero Prep and then taught chemistry and biology North Phoenix Prep,” Geraci recalled.

When CJ and her husband, who just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, learned that Great Hearts was opening an academy in Baton Rouge, they saw more than just a work opportunity. “My husband’s family has lived in Louisiana since 2003,” she said. They have family in New Orleans, Covington, Madisonville, and Belle Chase. “We were excited by the opportunity to move closer to them while also being a founding family at Harveston.” CJ, her husband, and their son who attends 3rd grade at Great Hearts Harveston, enjoy visiting her brother-and-sister-in-law’s house for an authentic crawfish boil.

CaddisflyGeraci grew up in New Jersey and brings an impressive science background with her to the new school. “I studied Biology at Drew University and Ecology at UNC-Chapel Hill,” she said. “After completing a master’s thesis, I joined the Entomology Department at Clemson University to work on a National Science Foundation grant studying caddisfly phylogenetics.” Geraci said these insects are used widely as indicators of water pollution in streams and rivers. “Our research team traveled to China, Japan, Ecuador, and Sulawesi collecting caddisflies for DNA analysis.  We were interested in how mutations of certain mitochondrial and ribosomal gene regions aligned with patterns of morphological variation across biogeographical regions.  After completing my PhD in Entomology in 2007, I served as a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow studying beetle biodiversity in Ecuadorian rainforests.”

Before coming to Great Hearts, Geraci was a teacher and research assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill and Clemson University, taught SAT, GRE, and MCAT prep classes for Kaplan, was a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Biological Infrastructure, and served as an Assistant Professor at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani.

“One day back in 2009, I got an email from a colleague who needed help identifying specimens collected in the headwater streams of the Tigris River Basin,” she said. “I was intrigued because little was known about the aquatic insects of Mesopotamia. A few weeks later a FedEx box arrived in my office at the Smithsonian.  This began a wonderful research partnership with the Twin Rivers Institute at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.” She traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan in the summer of 2010 to teach a workshop on aquatic insect taxonomy to biologists from Iraq and Iran. “Standing in the streams and rivers that fed the cradle of Western civilization was transformative.  We also visited new campus of the American University of Iraq and met John Agresto, former president of St. John’s College.  He recruited me to join their new Department of Natural Sciences after I finished my fellowship at the National Science Foundation. I taught in the Core Program where all students studied math, science, human civilization, and English literature and composition before specializing.”

“I had never encountered students whose K-12 schools had not adequately prepared them for higher education.  While some students had access to good schools elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe after fleeing the Saddam Hussein regime, others had their educations interrupted by war and terrorism.  Our team of professors was committed to helping our undergraduates overcome obstacles from lost years of education.  Teaching in Iraq and then leaving Iraq was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It made me realize the precious value of my own education and inspired me to pivot from a career in research to teaching beginners.  I loved the St. John’s College-inspired culture at AUIS, so when I returned home, I searched for it in the US.  I found Great Hearts and classical education when my husband, a SJC Eastern Classics alum, got a recruiting email and told me he thought it sounded interesting.”  They moved from Virginia to Arizona just a few months later.

Science teacher wearing goggles with two students

Geraci said that explaining why she left academia for K-12 education has never been easy, but said she has wonderful colleagues across the network who have also made the decision to pivot towards teaching beginners after earning their PhDs. “We have found something at Great Hearts that was often hard to come by in the academic world of ‘publish or perish’ – the ordered joy that emerges from formative education.”

“I love that as Great Hearts educators our mission is rooted in motivating students to wonder and become lifelong learners rather than to amass the most credits before graduation,” she said. “As someone who has studied ecology for most of my life, I appreciate the humane ecology of classical education with its focus on Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. I am excited to work with the middle school team to create beautiful classrooms that welcome students into ordered joyful rhythms at Great Hearts Harveston.  I’ve seen how education crosses languages, cultures, religion, and geopolitics. I am excited and humbled to learn from Sam Heisman and the Harveston leadership how to build a unifying ennobling school culture.

Geraci and the rest of the Harveston faculty would like to invite you to the Great Hearts Harveston Info Night. At this information night, families will be able to meet current parents from Great Hearts Harveston and Harveston educators. There, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the curriculum in action and receive an overview of the application process. You’ll also learn about the curriculum, enrichment programs, athletics and more. Register now at https://harveston.greatheartsamerica.org/great-hearts-harveston-information-night/.

Do you have a story or know of a story that you would like to see featured at Great Hearts?  Please contact jason.moore@greathearts.org.

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