Tara Bennewitz finds a teaching position she loves across country from Huntsville

Tara Bennewitz

Tara Bennewitz is enjoying teaching in and exploring Southern California.

Courtesy Tara Bennewitz

It took awhile for Tara Bennewitz to get to yes when husband John asked her if she was willing to move from her native Huntsville across country to Los Angeles, Calif.

But the story has a happy ending for Tara (BS, Biology, 2012), who has found a teaching job she loves at The Palmdale Aerospace Academy (TPAA) in Palmdale, Calif., a public charter school that focuses on a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum for its students.

The question about moving came after John, or more formally Dr. John Bennewitz (PhD, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, 2015), interviewed for a postdoctoral position at UCLA.

"John had reached out to a professor at UCLA and immediately was flown out for an interview that went really well. I remember the day he came home and said, ‘What do you think about moving to L.A.?’ and my response was a quick and decisive, ‘No,’" Tara says.

"I was very hesitant about moving for many reasons," says Tara, who had received her teaching credentials in Alabama and was looking for work in the Huntsville area. "California was so far away from home, it was expensive, I'd never lived in a big city, and I wouldn’t be able to teach because I would have to go through the credential process again." But then, she thought again.

"After a long conversation and weighing all of the offers in front of us, we decided that it was the best possible path for us, and I began to look at it as a big adventure! Within three weeks of John's interview, we were packing up our things and heading west! I would have NEVER guessed we would end up in Los Angeles, California!"

At TPAA, she teaches biology and she has taught seventh grade life science.

"The Antelope Valley, much like Huntsville, is a hub for the aerospace industry with companies like Lockheed and Boeing, and government research facilities like NASA Armstrong and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab," Tara says. "One of the big ideas driving TPAA’s curriculum is a home-grown workforce for these local high-tech firms. We want our students to be prepared for a wide variety of careers in the science and engineering fields."

The curriculum provides students with opportunities to design, create and explore, she says. Along with California graduation requirements, students also participate in six years of pre-engineering courses via a Project Lead the Way curriculum.

"They take classes in civil and aerospace engineering, computer manufacturing, computer science, digital electronics and design and development. All of these classes get students doing hands-on projects to solve real-world problems," Tara says.

"They are challenged to design products and explore solutions. We also offer a robotics class, and our robotics program is a large part of our school culture. We do not have a football team, we have a robotics team that competes on a national level."

The freedom to determine how best to teach to California State Standards for science enthuses Tara.

"My administrators are hands-off when it comes to curriculum design, which is both exciting and challenging. I am free to decide exactly what's going to happened in my classroom, but I also know there are very high expectations," she says. "I work hard to plan activities that get my students up and out of their seats, collaborating with their peers, solving problems and coming up with their own solutions. It is challenging and many times exhausting, but so fulfilling and worthwhile!"

Her education at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has proven invaluable, Tara says.

"I cannot say enough about the College of Education and the professors who prepared me for this career. Every class I was required to take had value. Every professor was invested in making me and my cohorts into the best teachers we could be," she says. "They prepared us for some of the harsher realities you experience while working in education, while still keeping us motivated and feeling like we could make an impact."

Courses in classroom management, curriculum design, developmental psychology and teaching special populations prepared her for most situations she encounters every day in the classroom, she says.

"I was also able to gain experiences in a variety of teaching settings from rural middle class communities, to more urban, low-income settings. I came out of the program confident in my abilities to teach, design curriculum and manage a classroom. "

When they’re not working, Tara and John avail themselves of Southern California’s diverse recreational opportunities.

"We have since moved about an hour north of the city, but when we lived in west L.A. I was able to do and see so much," Tara says. "I spent our year there visiting world-class museums, exploring the various eclectic neighborhoods and going on weekly date nights to the beach – which was only three miles from our apartment. We are a short drive away from snowy mountains, tropical islands and desert oases. We have also been able to visit five of the nine national parks in California, all within a day’s drive."

While the couple and their California-born infant son, Ben, would eventually like to make their way back home to Huntsville to be closer to family, for now they are developing their careers and finding new Southern California adventures.

"It was such a change, moving from my beloved Southern home, but it has proven to be worthwhile," Tara says. "While there was an adjustment period – learning how to parallel park, remembering to get your parking validated everywhere you go, driving in a big city – it was good to take the plunge and get out of my comfort zone."