Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Dacula Middle School teacher Cmdr. Celisa Edwards and her students Hannah Kozlowski, left, and Adelina Lup evaluate a mouse's behavior during a recent class.
DACULA -- Don't be fooled by references to intergalactic space travel, alien beings or the Starship Enterprise.
Teaching methods aboard the Starfleet Institute of the Sciences are very much rooted in the real world, even more so than the typical classroom.
Clad in matching Starfleet uniforms, co-teachers and "Commanders" Celisa Edwards and Jayne Lawson have taught at Dacula Middle School since 2007, connecting the subject areas of math, social studies, science and language arts through the unique pop culture theme.
"Everybody knows Star Trek," Lawson said. "It's a TV show that is multi-generational."
Using the show as a sort of common denominator for the students -- or "pilot cadets" -- Edwards and Lawson guide students through a world teeming with Klingons, Vulcans and Tribbles.
Such teaching "gets kids curious," Edwards said. "They say, 'what are these crazy teachers doing?' Once you've got their attention, the behavioral problems become non-existent. Kids want to be there, and we treat them just as they would be treated on the U.S.S. Enterprise."
That means calling students by their last names and "treating them with high respect ... as professionals."
Such displays of mutual courtesy go hand-in-hand with Edwards' and Lawson's teaching philosophies, which aim to introduce students to the real world.
"We try to bring everything around to real life," Edwards said. "They get time cards, and they get paid in promissory notes. If they don't finish their class work, that's their job, and they'll get fired, right? So they have to finish it. They take it home and finish it, or else they fall into the PIT."
The PIT, she explained, stands for Probation, Isolation and Termination -- a three-tiered approach to discipline aboard the Starfleet Institute of the Sciences. "We're real serious on this, so they take it real serious too. Just like in a real work atmosphere."
But despite potentially serious consequences of not completing one's work, the mood inside the classroom is one of lightheartedness.
"The secret to getting these kids to pay attention is making it fun and making it meaningful," Edwards said. "You've never seen kids so anxious to learn. They get tested in fun ways too, and the kids actually enjoy tests in my class."
An example of a test question in her class: "Vulcans are ruled by their spiritual leader. What kind of government do they have? a) oligarchy, b) theocracy, c) democracy or d)monarchy"
Student Jared Cifuentes, 12, said he was initially taken aback by the unusual approach to learning.
"It was weird at first, but now it makes sense, the way Commander Edwards relates it back to school," Cifuentes said.
Fellow classmate Rebecca Griffith, also 12, said she likes the approach too.
"It's pretty crazy," she said, laughing. "But it works. I like the way she teaches."
Her young cadets aren't the only ones who feel that way.
In October 2012, a list of finalists for Gwinnett County Public Schools' teacher of the year was narrowed to six peer-picked and judge-selected candidates. Among them was Edwards.
Lawson said Edwards is a successful teacher because "kids are having fun in the classroom, and if they're having fun in the classroom, they're going to learn in spite of themselves."
Added Lawson: "It's all about the presentation."