Pam Hepp was a caring, creative and energetic science teacher at Sidwell Friends for 26 years. Upper school students know her as the teacher who brought chemistry to life. To middle schoolers before that, she was the science teacher with the giant heart drawn on her classroom floor who loved leading and participating in “mini-mester” and other middle school camping and bike trips.
Pam began her teaching career at Sidwell in 1985. For five years she taught 7th grade life science, 5/6 general science, and coached swimming. She also chaired the middle school science department for a few years. In 1990, Pam’s husband Lou was transferred to England. They moved to London with two toddlers, Christopher and Michael, in tow, and lived there for four years. During this time period, their third son David was born. When the family returned to the U.S. in 1994, Sidwell was excited at the prospect of getting her back. From 1994-1996, Pam filled-in for 8th grade environmental science teacher Dan Bogan every Friday and taught summer school biology. In 1996, the upper school had a part-time chemistry position open. Susan Wooden, then a long-time member of the science department and chemistry teacher, convinced Pam to leave the middle school and jump into this position. Susan, whose two sons both had Pam in middle school, knew first hand that Pam was an amazing teacher and would be a superb addition to the upper school science department. Over the years Pam taught Chemistry I, Chemistry IA (honors), Chemistry II (AP Chemistry), AP Environmental Science, Biology I, and she developed and taught a chemistry elective in Forensic Science.
A multi-talented and gifted teacher, Pam instinctively knew how to bring a classroom alive. Colleagues who had the great fortune to work with her or see her at work saw Pam as an innovative and creative educator. Her classes promoted collaborative, student-centered, experiential learning long before these teaching methods were in vogue. Her primary focus was to teach students how to learn, and to bring the subject matter to their lives by making it relevant, memorable and meaningful. She helped countless science students believe that they could do it and helped them understand and find the chemistry in every day life.
Pam’s energy, passion and love of science were evident in her classes every day. She was comfortable letting the learning process be messy both physically and mentally. She believed the students needed to get their hands dirty, see things for themselves, and learn to work together to solve problems. Her classes were filled with fun and engaging activities; the students did colorful metal ion flame tests, grew beautiful crystals, and learned about chromatography by tie-dying t-shirts, about the gas laws by popping corn, investigated changing states of matter by making ice cream, and reviewed for exams by competing in the golden beaker challenge.
Pam set high expectations for her students and encouraged them to excel and develop questioning minds. Her door was always open for those seeking help; Pam basically didn’t have free periods – her room always had students working chemistry problems, completing labs, or preparing for the Chemathon competition. She formed strong and lasting relationships with many students. Her positive can-do attitude both challenged and nurtured countless more. In her last five years at Sidwell, Pam encouraged students to apply their science knowledge outside of the classroom by entering competitions. In 2010, she formed Sidwell’s first Chemathon team to enter University of Maryland’s annual chemistry competition. Chemathon is not for the light-of-heart; it requires great commitment and preparation both on the part of the faculty advisor and the student participants. Pam’s 2012 team won first place! In 2013, Pam formed another team of students to build and race an electric car in a U.S. Department of Energy Electric Car Competition.
Pam’s energy, organization, and work ethic did not go unnoticed by the administration in the upper school. She clerked the Science Self-Study twice, the CCC Long Range Plan Science Committee, was interim science department chair, served on several upper school committees, and was the director of the Japan Summer Culture and Language Program from 2012-2015. She also was selected to represent Sidwell as a visiting teacher at the Shanghai School and Beijing Number One School in China in 2006. Believing that education goes beyond the classroom, Pam was an active chaperone for countless freshman orientation days and upper school community service days; she also chaperoned two summer bike trips to Holland, a ski trip to Alta in Utah, the Hawaii Student Global Leadership Institute (2013), and the West Virginia Quaker Work Camp (2014). Over the years, Pam was also the recipient of several Venture Grants for course development including the use of digital photography in the chemistry classroom, the use of Vernier software and technology in chemistry, and the development of the forensic science curriculum.
Pam’s fondest memories of her time at Sidwell are working closely with colleagues and students, and helping those reluctant chemistry students realize that they can do chemistry and enjoy it.
In retirement Pam plans “to have fun,” do a lot of bike riding, continue to compete in triathlons, and continue to raise her bees and harvest delicious Hepp Honey. She is currently volunteering with the Red Cross and will be an adjunct professor at American University mentoring new DC public school science teachers. So far she has two trips planned – Hawaii in October of this year, and Mexico in 2016.
It was my honor and privilege to work with and learn from this truly extraordinary teacher, generous colleague, and great friend. I wish her good health, happiness and adventure.