Engaging Young Minds: Life as an Educator and Environmentalist

p35-geddesSome people are born to be educators, and Sandra Balduzzi Geddes ’65 is one of them.

Born to immigrant parents in Solvay, N.Y., she was the oldest of four children and the first in her family to go to college.

“I desperately wanted to be a teacher early on—maybe when I was 9 or 10,” she said. “My parents believed in education and supported me because I was so focused.”

Geddes knew Oswego offered programs in teaching so she enrolled—a move that ultimately launched a 44-year career as an elementary school teacher, including the last 20 years of her career at Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda, Md.

Although she considered herself a classroom teacher first and foremost, Geddes, a.k.a the “Stream Queen,” made national headlines for her innovative, applied lessons in science and ecology. This work in science sprung from the fact that the science teacher had left the school shortly after she started and a new curriculum was needed.

Not knowing too much about science herself, she began designing curricula that was interesting to her and relevant to society. She also tied science lessons into her fourth grade class’ reading, language arts and social studies assignments. Her students raised underwater bay grasses, American shad,
rainbow trout and horseshoe crabs in their study of the local stream.

She initiated partnerships with other teachers in the county, with parents and with environmental organizations. To help obtain and keep funding, she created an environmental club for fifth graders called the Aqua Eagles. They were responsible for educating everyone from kindergarteners to legislators about the fourth graders’ work.

Her students’ work contributed to the restoration of the American shad into the Potomac River and the creation of a notch in the Little Falls dam so that the spawning shad could return to their native stream. They were also the first researchers to document on video macroinvertebrates, which are the best indicators of the health of a stream.

She and her students have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post and several books for their environmental work.

“These changes happened—shad was restored, the dam notched—not only because of our children, I know, but they believe they made these changes,” Geddes said. “They felt empowered.”

Although she retired four years ago and has since moved to be closer to family in Philadelphia, her science program lives on at her former school and her desire to start the program in her new city remains. In the meantime, she enjoys reading to her young grandchildren, nurturing the next generation of inquisitive minds.

—Margaret Spillett

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