Every so often, life presents you with the opportunity to either seize the reins or to submit meekly and admit your inferiority to the challenge. This kind of opportunity arises in times of crisis; in situations and places so formidable, so imposingly, jaw-droppingly terrifying that even the mere idea of resistance is beyond question for most. Room 302, the lair of Mr. Joseph Popelka ’84, is such a place, and his biology class has long been the proving ground for Ignatius sophomores. Those sophomores enter children and leave battle-tested men, grateful for the experience but fearful of ever going back, or so it had been thought. This year marks the inauguration of Mr. Popelka’s long awaited Human Anatomy and Physiology class, and 25 Ignatian men have stepped forward for two semesters of rapid-fire science at the hands of the man whose sense of mercy can only be described as “hypothetical.”
Mr. Popelka’s quest to establish Anatomy and Physiology was common gossip around campus for some time, but after finally gaining approval to begin the course JoPo has taken charge with his customary vigor. “It’s a college class,” he says. “Granted, it’s monstrous-sized.” Mr. Popelka hopes to replicate his own experiences in higher education, and as part of his course’s raised standards his students are tasked with a curriculum that takes them through many of the 600 muscles contained in the human body, as well as up to 400 microscopic slides per individual Powerpoint presentation. So far the lab experience has been mostly virtual, although Mr. Popelka adds that the quality of the digital instruction has far exceeded his expectations. As the year progresses, he aims to increase the number of dissections performed by the students, and has even discussed the possibility of taking the class to see a surgery in person.
As Mr. Popelka notes, “the class fulfills a certain niche.” The curriculum is aimed towards providing an introduction to practical, lab-oriented human biology, and many of the students taking the class have already expressed interest in a medical career. The class has a 22:3 ratio of seniors to juniors, which facilitates the focused conversations and rapid timetable that are the hallmarks of the Popelka method. Since Anatomy is an elective, those students taking the class are volunteers – meaning that unlike the fledgling sophomores who are drafted into biology, they are taking his class of their own free will. Such bravery does not go unnoticed, and Mr. Popelka has chosen to reward them by increasing the pace of the class. “Seniors are more internally focused,” he explains, “so you can put more on the kids’ plates.” Foreboding words indeed, but the speed of his instruction is a challenge that the valiant students of ninth period Anatomy undertake with joy.
And as a teacher who once dispassionately predicted the survivors of Hunger Games-style experiments using his pupils, Mr. Popelka is sure to make competition an integral part of the Human Anatomy experience. His three biology classes this year have already toughed out the first few rounds of his famed testing schedule, with sophomores Pat Millican and Kellen Dugan topping the charts as 2X “Man”-award winners, accorded for an A+ under Mr. Popelka’s famously stringent grading scale. Meanwhile, Adam Calogeras and Evan Prichard have surmounted five of the nine Anatomy chapter tests to become the leaders in newly instituted “Doctor” awards. However, competition is cutthroat, and Mr. Popelka expects new developments over the course of the year.
For the year to come, Room 302 will continue to be the home of Mr. Popelka and his collection of loyal students, both voluntary and otherwise. The tears will be real, the science will be merciless, and, rain or shine, Mr. Popelka will be there cracking jokes and telling stories at the front of the classroom. If you pass one of the Anatomy students in the hallway, offer them your respect, but do not offer them your sympathy. They signed up for this task, and Mr. Popelka will ensure that their impudence is appropriately rewarded.
If you are a junior or a Kirby sophomore and this sounds like the class for you, stop on by Room 302 and ask Mr. Popelka for more information.