Carol Schutt was absolutely thrilled.
One mid-July morning in 2008, the 50-year-old Enochs High School science instructor reported for her summer teacher's intern assignment arranged through Stanislaus Partners in Education.
It wasn't just any summer internship, though. Schutt, who teaches forensic science, applied to work at the Stanislaus County coroner's facility on Oakdale Road.
She would spend a week working alongside Chief Deputy Coroner Kristi Ah You and her staff, going out to recover bodies and preparing for and cleaning up after autopsies.
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Mostly, Schutt would be able to regale her students with real-life experiences — not the 50 minutes of unrealistic scenarios and 10 minutes of commercials they'll get from the dramas they watch on TV.
The point of the educator internship program is to keep teachers in touch with workplaces where their students will someday use the skills they learned in the classrooms. This summer, SPIE will pay 34 teachers — ranging from seventh grade to junior college instructors — a $750 stipend each to stay connected to their respective fields. The nonprofit's funding comes from employers and public agencies.
They've worked in offices, factories, newspapers, government, graphic design businesses — fields that relate to what they teach.
But before Schutt could start at the coroner's office, Ah You needed to know if she had the stomach for it. So Ah You gave Schutt and her SPIE adviser, Paul Schaefer, a tour.
Schutt listened intently as staff explained every stop. To hear them tell it, though, Schaefer seemed a bit uneasy about being there. Some people do morgues better than others, I suppose.
Then they entered a room where autopsies are performed. A white body bag rested on a table in the center of the room.
Ah You walked over and unzipped the bag. Schaefer recalled the moment.
"Oh, my God!" he said. "This guy came out of the bag."
Pop! goes a deputy coroner — alive and well and with a smile on his face.
"It caught me completely off guard," Schaefer said.
They got a good laugh out of it.
The prank had an additional purpose. In a job that deals with death, any chance to bring some levity to the office is good for morale and stress levels.
"Every call is a bad call," Ah You said. "Humor plays an integral role in the ability to deal with difficult situations. It offsets the harmful effects of the job."
Schutt passed Ah You's test and spent one of the best weeks of her professional life there.
"I wasn't worried about her at all," Ah You said. "I was worried about Paul."
"I absolutely loved it," Schutt said. "It was the most exciting experience I've ever had."
She accompanied coroner's staff out to Westley, where seven people died when two vehicles went into the Delta-Mendota Canal.
"You don't realize how physical the job is," she said. "You go home exhausted."
She also performed menial but vital chores at the coroner's facility. The week went way too fast.
"I did my 40 hours in four days," Schutt said.
And when she returned to the classroom a month later, she came armed with usable information for her students.
"Tying in things that we use in a forensics science approach," she said, "I can expose kids to the idea that people really do this."
The program at Enochs is designed to encourage students to prepare to work in labs and to learn the scope of forensic science, including the deterioration of tissues.
"There's not a lot of places to go for this kind of exposure," SPIE's Schaefer said. "It was just exactly what she wanted, and she took it back to her students."
Minus the autopsy room shock value, though.
For more information about Stanislaus Partners in Education's teacher internship program, call 238-1766 or visit www.stanislauspartners.com and click on "Internships."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.