Carl Vasil followed his calling when he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Airborne Ranger. After his discharge from the military, Vasil now serves his community as a highly respected teacher at BASIS Goodyear. Find out how Vasil combines the leadership skills learned in the military with his passion for Physics to reach students at the Arizona charter school.
A Life of Service
Some people may be hard-pressed to find any similarities between serving in the U.S. Army and teaching middle school science.
But the parallels are pretty clear for Carl Vasil, a combat veteran who was sent into battle at the onset of the Iraq war, and now teaches math and physics at BASIS Goodyear.
As an Army staff sergeant and combat paratrooper, Vasil routinely encouraged his soldiers to set goals, and helped those soldiers build confidence by pushing them to persevere through the most challenging circumstances and accomplish tasks that they might’ve considered impossible.
As a science teacher, Vasil has kept the same objective as he helps pre-teens navigate physics, a subject that most Arizona students won’t encounter until high school, at earliest.
Although the classroom has nothing in common with the battlefield, the students can face their own sense of trepidation as they tackle a difficult subject at such a young age.
“I see kids come in on the first day of sixth grade and they’re doing physics, and they’re afraid, they’re scared. So I like being able to be a part of that and help them through it,” said Vasil, who teaches students in grades six through nine at the west Valley public charter school.
Vasil’s ability to integrate the principles learned from his military experience with some innovative teaching methods has endeared him to both students and staff at BASIS Goodyear, part of the acclaimed and highly-performing BASIS network of schools.
He was a finalist for the 2016 Arizona Charter Teacher of the Year.
“He just brings a dynamic and personality to the school and it really helps shape who we are as a school,” said Robert Bowley, head of school at BASIS Goodyear.
As a soldier, Vasil served as an infantryman in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, jumping directly into some of the most dangerous combat zones around the world – literally. His Italy-based unit deployed to Iraq at the beginning of the war in 2003. He was also stationed with the 101st Airborne in Ft. Campbell, Ky.
Vasil received numerous awards while serving, including a Bronze Star Combat Parachutist Badge, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal w/Arrowhead, and several Army Commendation and Army Achievement medals.
“I learned that the people around you in life are the most important thing,” he said. “I notice the people I give my time and energy to, because those are the people I can really influence.”
Vasil described the Army as a “calling,” but his transition to teaching was spurred by a love of science and a desire to lead and teach, which grew from his time in the military.
He returned to school at Estrella Mountain Community College, where met his mentor, Dwayne Desbien, before transferring to Arizona State University.
Although Vasil has introduced the discipline, goal setting and time-management from the Army into the classroom, he attributes his teaching success to the “modeling” method he learned from Desbien, who was his physics instructor at Estrella Mountain.
The modeling method is more of a hands-on approach to teaching science which uses tools such as diagrams and graphs to solve problems and arrive at conclusions.
Vasil credits the modeling method as his reason for passing physics in college.
“I went through this style of teaching and I realized afterwards it was a really effective way of getting students to learn,” he said.
His students say they have benefited from both his military and academic approaches to teaching.
“The attitude he reflects is not a bad attitude. It’s a strict, fun and nice attitude,” said Nafeesa Elma, a seventh grader at BASIS.
Elma, 12, struggled with Physics when she first began taking the class, but Vasil’s teaching style allowed her to grow and find success in the subject.
“He gives examples about everything he’s teaching,” she said. “I like his attitude and the way he explains everything.”
Seventh grader Gage Outar, 11, said Vasil’s Army background is evident when he’s in front of the classroom.
“He’s a very strict, but good teacher. I think he got that from the Army. He’s still a very fun teacher,” Outar said. “He commands respect.”