Alan Hoskins, Supervisor of Public Information
Friday, October 12, 2012
Award-winning biology teacher taught 30 years at SM Northwest
Progressing through high school and college, Al Frisby learned about teaching from some of the best – and some not so good.
“One of my instructors at Metropolitan Junior College at 39th and McGee was a wonderful biology teacher,” says Frisby. “We called him ‘Batman’ because he liked to take students through caves. He really opened my eyes to biology as a career. I also had wonderful teachers at Stephen F. Austin University and Emporia State and a great mentor in my first year of teaching at Turner High School, Lloyd Fugate. First year teachers need mentors and he really helped in learning better ways to teach a course in biology.”
In contrast, his introduction to education didn’t get off to a very good start. “Except for a few teachers, I didn’t have a good experience in high school. Most of the teachers didn’t make things very interesting for me,” says Frisby, a 1964 graduate of William Chrisman High School. “And when I was a student teacher in Texas, the regular teacher didn’t have many labs and all she wanted me to do was lecture and I was disappointed in that. I wanted to have hands-on instruction for the kids.”
The lessons he learned – both good and bad – he certainly learned well and after 41 years in the classroom, he will be inducted into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame at Kansas City Kansas Community College Saturday, Nov. 3. A fund-raiser for the KCKCC Endowment Association, the 17th annual dinner and induction ceremonies are open to the public and reservations can be made by phone at 913-288-7166 or by e-mail to email@example.com.
For 30 years from 1972-2002, Frisby taught biology, AP biology, anatomy and physiology and chemistry at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School and added another six years teaching biology at Liberty High School. In addition, he spent four years substituting in science classes in SM high schools along with teaching anatomy one summer at KCKCC and another summer teaching freshman biology at Rockhurst University.
However, some of his most interesting work came before he ever got to SM Northwest. He had not finished his first year of teaching at Turner when he received a draft notice. “I needed a deferral to finish my first year and then on June 8, 1970, I was called to take a physical at Union Station. Instead, I was kidnapped so to speak. They took me right to Fort Leonard Wood. I had to call my wife and tell her I would not be home for a while.”
Because of his background in biology, he was sent to Fort Ord, Cal., and then to Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he took a course in neuropsychiatric training and then spent the remainder of his tour of duty helping soldiers returning from the Vietnam Conflict with drug problems. “I heard all kinds of stories and experiences,” says Frisby. “It had to be very traumatic for them because it was for me. I had nightmares for months, maybe years.”
Discharged in March of 1972 and with no teaching jobs available, Frisby went into Malairal Research at the Jackson County Jail through the KCMO General Hospital. “While paying them, we gave patients malaria and then treated them with a new drug the Army wanted us to test,” remembers Frisby. “Our pill was better than the old method and was sent to Vietnam, a pill taken in the morning to help prevent malaria. I was very proud of that and it turned me on to hands-on education.”
Hired to teach psychology two weeks after the start of the 1972 fall semester at SM Northwest, Frisby would for the next 30 years compile an enviable record in the field of biology and science. Numerous students competed in the annual Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair and five times he took students to the next level, the International Science and Engineering Fair. He and his students also took part in Science Knowledge Bowls and the American Heart Association’s ‘Save a Sweetheart’ No Smoking campaign and fielded numerous Science Olympiad teams.
Those efforts won him numerous awards including the state award for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Math for three straight years starting in 1993 and the Outstanding Science Educator Award from SHARE IN 1994. The SM Northwest faculty conferred the prestigious Parker Award on him in 1996 and former students honored him with KU Teacher Recognition awards in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Science Pioneers honored him twice with the Excellent Teacher Award in 2004 and then in 2008 for the Howard Gadberry Teacher Award.
One of his most innovative and successful projects was developing a “shadowship’ program. “We really had some bright kids who wanted to be doctors and nurses so every Thursday I would call hospitals to see if there were medical procedures students could observe,’ says Frisby. “They’d go four at a time and come back and report what they observed. One of the places was the Medical Examiner’s office at the Truman Medical Center where students could observe autopsies. On one Thursday, my students were there when Precious Doe was found.
“At other times, students one at a time were allowed to watch operations. If anyone is going into a STEM career, they need the opportunity to see the career in which they have an interest. It was a wonderful opportunity for students in the medical field and very important in my teaching.”
In 1997, Frisby had open heart surgery at Menorah Hospital and one of his students observed. “He’s probably an M.D. by now…he told me details I didn’t know because I was out.”
His retirement in 2002 lasted just long enough to take a position teaching biology and physical science at Liberty High. “I had been in debt all my life even doing landscaping in the summer,” says Frisby. “By working 30 years in Kansas, I could go teach in Missouri and not be penalized by Social Security so it was the perfect time and in six years, I had paid off all my debts. Best financial decision of my life was to move my career to Missouri for a second retirement check.”
Married 45 years, he and his wife, Linda, have two children and four grandchildren to enjoy in their retirement years. Daughter Nicole and her husband, Jon Snow, have four sons, ages six, four and 11-month-old twins; while son Nicolas just recently earned his Ph.D. in computer science from KU.
Frisby would, however, continue to substitute teach for four years and for two summers taught life science to K-6 day campers at Science City at Union Station. He’s also been a volunteer doing minor repair for the “Front Porch Alliance: in the inner city, and even got into politics where he has lived for 25 years, winning election to the Merriam City Council. He is also the event organizer in the Johnson County MoveOn.org/team organization, a group representing the “voice of the middle class” in the political arena.
While proud of his accomplishments, Frisby credits his wife, Linda, for her support and contribution in raising their two children to what they are today. His time in education was very rewarding for both the students and himself, but, “We must place a higher value on education in Kansas – our economic survival depends on it.”