Staples High forensics teacher earns FBI certificate: ‘This was an opportunity of a lifetime.’

WESTPORT — Heather Wirkus grew up idolizing the special agents from her favorite crime shows and documentaries. To her, there was nothing cooler than being an agent, uncovering evidence and solving cases.

Wirkus ultimatley decided to choose a career in teaching and currently works as a biology and forensics teacher at Staples High School, but her passion for crime shows never dwindled. In fact, when an opportunity to live out her childhood dream presented itself, she jumped at the chance.

Wirkus was recently presented with an FBI certification for her completion of an FBI Citizens Academy course.

“I haven’t been this excited since graduating, getting married and having kids,” Wirkus said. “This was an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Wirkus first learned about the course through a connection of one of her former students whose father was a former federal prosecutor for Connecticut. The student’s father introduced Wirkus to a special agent he knew and Wirkus invited the agent to speak to her class.

After giving a presentation on the FBI and forensic techniques to her class, he told Wirkus about the FBI course and said he would sponsor her.

“I thought it was amazing because as an educator I’m always trying to find ways to add to my understanding of what I teach,” Wirkus said.

The FBI Citizens Academy is a six-week course that gives an inside look at the FBI through intensive classes taught by various special agents. The graduating class of 20, met at the FBI field office is New Haven every Thursday and learned about human intelligence gathering, domestic terrorism, violent gangs, cybersecurity, crisis negotiations, SWAT teams, public corruption, civil rights, human trafficking and victim assistance programs.

Wirkus — who started teaching forensics five years ago when Staples needed another teacher due to its growing popularity — said the FBI course has given her a deeper passion and understanding of forensics.

“I ended up going into teaching because I love working with children, but it’s almost like we had the opportunity to see what it likes to be a special agent,” she said.

She said that now it’s an even bigger passion of hers because she can see it from a different perspective of not just enjoying documentaries and television, but actually knowing and understanding all of the different pieces of evidence that go into solving a crime.

“I fell more in love with it,” she said. “Solving a crime is literally like solving a puzzle.”

Wirkus said when she first walked into he FBI office she was excited, but also nervous due to all of the security measures that she had to go through. Like in the crime shows and movies, when Wirkus pulled in, the agents had the mirror to check underneath the car, they opened and checked the trunk and Wirkus had to give up any technology and Bluetooth equipment prior to walking in.

She said the background checks were also even more intense and in-depth than when she first begin teaching 15 years ago.

“I was excited. Let me tell you,” Wirkus said. “When I have people who come in and talk to my class, I’m like ‘Am I more excited than everyone else that this person is here with a piece of duct tape with trace evidence on it or is it just me?’”

Wirkus believes one of the main reasons she was selected for the academy was because she demonstrated a commitment to not only teaching, but protecting all citizens.

As an alumna of the program, she is now a liaison between the public and the FBI. In that position her goals are to be a catalyst for learning, build safer communities, help support the FBI, increase the public understanding and encourage others to benefit from this experience.

She also gets to be involved in countless community service engagements, including collecting backpacks for human trafficking victims.

“I was fortunate to meet all these individuals that work for the FBI and see what their specific roles are in protecting the community,” she said. “I’m excited about improving the quality of life for members in the community.”