All Time Favorite Teachers (Summer 2014)

Each issue of Cultural Soundings invites the Sturgis community to weigh in on various topics. Past topics have included:

 Cape Cod Quintessence (Summer 2012)             Comfort Food (Fall 2013)                              Sturgis Reads (Spring 2012)

 Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation (Fall 2012)          Where Were You When…? (Summer 2013)         Travel Tales (Fall 2011)

 For the Summer ’14 issue,  we asked the Sturgis community to tell us about some of their all time  favorite teachers. Included are excerpts from Eric Hieser’s Graduation speeches honoring faculty who are heading off to different corners of the world.
Pete in the Chair of Honor

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains.

The superior teacher demonstrates.

         The great teacher inspires.

       William Arthur Ward

Who are some of your favorite teachers and 

how did they earn that title?


Travis AndradeTravis Andrade, Latin – West

By Eric Hieser, Executive Director
(Excerpt from remarks at Sturgis West Graduation, May 31, 2014) 

While we have a few faculty who will be heading off to distant corners of the world, it is difficult to say good-bye to someone who has helped guide young people and the school even prior to when I joined Sturgis 11 years ago.  Travis Andrade arrived at Sturgis when we were a very different school!  He helped build the school culture and guided so many students in their journeys through Latin and athletics.  For his dedicated service and commitment to the Sturgis mission, Class of 2014 and audience, please recognize Travis Andrade!

Gretchen  Buntschuh,  Beloved Sturgis Poet & Teacher (1937- 2010)

Gretchen Buntschuh helped shape Sturgis Charter Public School through the many roles she played at the school over the years. She taught English, became Lead Teacher of the English Department and was later appointed Assistant Director of Sturgis.  When she retired, she found she missed the vitality and creativity of the Sturgis community so much, she simply had to return.  In her second career at Sturgis, she served as grant writer and IB Extended Essay adviser. Gretchen Buntschuh passed away in February 2010 after a brief but fierce battle with pancreatic cancer.
Gretchen Buntschuh Memorial Windows

Gretchen Buntschuh Memorial Window – Sturgis East Library
Glasswork by Patrick Todoroff

During Gretchen’s final weeks, the Sturgis community began to search for ways to honor her. Since Gretchen had inspired the creation of the original Sturgis Soundings,  a compilation of book reviews that reflect the various interests and enthusiasms of the Sturgis community,  it seemed fitting to create a special edition of All Time Favorite Books to celebrate her distinctive contributions to Sturgis and her life-long love of reading. Alicia Fenney wrote the following tribute which was displayed on the cover of All Time Favorite Books.

By Alicia Fenney,  Class of 2003 and former Sturgis East English Teacher
Gretchen Buntschuh

Gretchen Buntschuh

When I think of the best books, those favorites that call to me, beckoning me from my worldly duties, I think not of works of literature but of the person who made literature come alive for me, who made me love to read, and who made me want to share this passion for literature with others. Gretchen Buntschuh was my senior year English teacher at Sturgis, and even in the days before Sturgis held the prestige of an internationally recognized diploma program, Sturgis had its gem.

Although any fortune teller could have read my future in the cards long ago, I never had that moment of revelation, the split second where I realized who and what I was capable of becoming, until I sat in my first Socratic Circle in Room 101. Although I fondly remember (most of) the literature Gretchen presented to our class of restless seniors (let’s just say I’m glad Tess Durbeyfield has found her home in the Sturgis basement), it wasn’t the “what” but the “how” Gretchen taught that made me want to read more. In those Socratic Circles, we discussed the heroism in Beowulf, astrology and philosophy in Grendel, a cranky, rash, and immature prince in Hamlet, and, oh, the sad plights of women in Antigone, The Doll’s House, and The House of Bernarda Alba. Through the simple gesture of letting us loose on a work of literature, Gretchen helped me realize that I could see simple humanity in each work, and could analyze characters and action in a way that made “reading” literature an adventure.

If Socratic Circles made me want to study literature, project-based learning made me want to teach it. One of my favorite assignments from The House of Bernarda Alba was an art assignment in which she asked us to portray a scene from the play. I chose the suicide of the heroine and painted a symbolic Raggedy-Anne, clad in green, hanging in a prison cell overlooking the ocean. Thinking about the effect of my art, I understood the effect authors try to create in theirs. Another “aha” moment occurred when Gretchen asked us to present a scene from Hamlet, recreating the direction, acting, and props. As the director, I loved manipulating the text and my actors to create meaning. While we had the class roaring in laughter at our Star Wars spoof when Princess Leia returned the “remembrances” (boxer shorts with “Han Solo” written on the tag) to Han Solo, we also made a connection to the universal human emotions in the early modern play. Learning literature could be much more than reading and writing and I thank Gretchen for teaching me that.

A great book is one that teaches us something about ourselves and the world around us. And so this is my tribute to Gretchen Buntschuh, the teacher who helped me appreciate great books. Gretchen taught me to read (to really “read”), to teach, and to love every minute of it.

Dawn Cope, Art and Randy Carspecken, Mathematics  – East

By Eric Hieser, Executive Director
(Excerpt from remarks at Sturgis East Graduation, May 31, 2014) 
Dawn Cope Demonstrates Acrylic Painting

Dawn Cope

Randy Carspecken Sturgis HL Math 2014 (1)

Randy Carspecken

While we have a few faculty who will be heading off to distant corners of the world, it is always difficult to say good-bye to those who have helped guide young people and the school as it has evolved.  The first two decided to join us nine years ago despite having offers to join some prestigious international schools.  They believed in the vision that we have for our students as they felt that they were a good match for the Sturgis IB for All mission.  I want to recognize and thank them for their outstanding work with our students over the years: Dawn Cope and Randy Carspecken please stand.


Marca Daley, Theory of Knowledge – East

By Maggie Randall, Class of 2014 – East
Marca Daley

Marca Daley

When I think of my favorite teacher this year, I think of Mrs. Daley. I just met her this year but she has already made a significant impact on my junior year and my time at Sturgis. One thing that I really admire about Mrs. Daley is her patience. Even when it is clear that the class in acting in a way that she doesn’t like, she still respects us and treats us with kindness. Another thing that I really appreciate about Mrs. Daley is that she is always willing to help me out. Just this past week, I lost my notebook and she was very eager in taking time out of her day to help me find it. Thank you, Ms. Daley for always being there for me and for all your students.


Coach Ertl

By Lindsey Weaver, Mathematics – East

Coach Ertl and Lindsey Weaver

I wasn’t ready to run that 4×400 that changed my life in 9th grade, yet there I was. Fate had ordered me to fall in love with a sport called track & field. As a 7th grader, I considered track & field torture. I tried to convince my mom every day on the way home from practice to let me quit. Yet here I was, a 9th grader standing before Coach Ertl: a coach who had decided to enter me into the state finals 4×400 race. I am still unsure of why he chose an inexperienced 400 runner with a mediocre time to run that race. I ended up failing quite spectacularly. I did not cut in when I was supposed to, and thus ran much further than planned. What I assumed was cheering had actually been desperate cries from coaches and teammates yelling at me to cut in. A mediocre coach would have told me that I had ruined any chance my team had, and that I had failed, both of which were entirely true. But a great coach inspires. Coach Ertl expected me to do my best on that day, but he inspired me to seek the truth beyond that day; the truth that we can stand back up from our failures and push ourselves to overcome our odds. Courage and work ethic are not whiteboard lessons. Instead, they are cultivated by experiences that transform us, like pushing ourselves through moments where we could more easily give up. Because of his faith in me, I had the courage to stand back up after defeat, and relentlessly pursue a stronger self. I fell down countless times in the next 3 years as a track and field athlete (mostly figuratively, but sometimes literally in my ventures as a hurdler). In some environments, it would have been easy to make excuses, to give partial effort, and to tell myself that the standard was simply set too high. But with a coach who relentlessly believed in me, the only option was standing back up. Two years later, I stood in the same arena preparing for the same state final 4×400 race. Before the gun went off, I glanced to the crowd, spotting the coach who had inspired a transformation in my understanding of courage and work ethic. That day, we ran the fastest 4×400 time in school history. And I became a life-long believer in the power of someone believing in us more than we believe in ourselves. Coach Ertl continues to have an impact on me. I am reminded of him as I watch the inspiring colleagues around me, as students push further in the IB curriculum than they knew they could, and their teachers smirk and say, “I knew you would.”

Johanna KallioJohanna Kallio

By Eric Hieser, Executive Director
(Excerpt from remarks at  East faculty luncheon)
As many of you know, Johanna Kallio is leaving Sturgis after twelve years of service to the science department.  Johanna brought a great deal of enthusiasm, passion, and expertise to her teaching and we wish her well as she heads for Finland to be with her father.


Reinhold P. Marxhausen

By Peter Richenburg, Art – WestMoon music maker, Pete R.

Reinhold P. Marxhausen was one of my art professors in Nebraska.  Marxhausen’s expertise and talent as an accomplished artist were well-known and respected.  What set Marxhausen apart was his enthusiasm for the commonplace.  He used to tell us that the world was full of “visual treasures” these treasures could be anything from the way morning dew defines a spider’s web to the mesmerizing shapes distorted in a car’s headlight and it was up to us as art students to find and celebrate these things.  As artists we had the responsibility to share these treasures with  those around us.  As an art teacher, I have tried as best I can to carry Marxhausen’s mantle and help my students celebrate the world of wonder in which we live.

Mrs. Mentor

By Robin Singer, Mathematics – West

Ironically, I was inspired by a teacher (from New Rochelle High School) whose name was Mrs. Mentor.  She taught me trigonometry (and other pre-calc topics) and I loved it.  In high school, I had no intention of going into a mathematical field, but I just loved the material and she evidently presented it in a way that made it crystal clear.  I do not have a photo and do not even know if she is still alive since I took the course in 1971-1972 and I seem to recall her as having been middle-aged then.  Years later, I decided to go into engineering and then, of course, I eventually became a math teacher, and the trigonometry was always at my fingertips.  I believe it was her teaching that laid the groundwork for all the math I have done as an adult.  If  by some miracle, she is reading Sturgis Soundings, then I wish to say … “thanks so much, Mrs. Mentor”

Kathy Mullin

Kathy Mullin

Kathy Mullin

By Eric Hieser, Executive Director

(Excerpt from remarks at Sturgis East Graduation, May 31, 2014) 

Kathy Mullin arrived at Sturgis when we were a very different school, in fact she probably has many interesting stories that she could share about “the early years”.  She helped create our school culture and has guided so many students in their journeys through science and math.  For her dedicated service and commitment to the Sturgis mission, please recognize Kathy Mullin!

Rachel Ollagnon,  Theater – East and West

Mrs. Ollagnon (front, second from the right) will move on from Sturgis next year to teach at a school in Houston, Texas

Mrs. Ollagnon (front, second from the right) will move on from Sturgis next year to teach at a school in Houston, Texas

Curtain Call: Sturgis Loses Beloved Theatre Teacher

(Originally published in The Stormwatch newspaper, reprinted with permission)
 By Peter Keefe,  Class of 2015 – East

Mrs. O changed my life. Because of her I discovered my passion. I realized what I want to do with my life. I finally found something I’m good at, and where I fit in.  Towards the end of sophomore year, I was sure I was not going to do IB Theatre. That year Mrs. O was my English teacher as well as my theatre teacher for the second semester. However, one day in English class, Mrs. O told me that she thought I should definitely do theatre. As I began to think it over, I slowly realized that I really did want to take the course. Mrs. O is the reason I chose to take IB Theatre. Through taking it as a class, I realized that I did not only want it to be part of my schedule.  I wanted it to be part of my life. I joined STAGE this fall as a member of the stage crew for Fiddler on the Roof.  Mrs. O is the reason I am a part of STAGE. During my time backstage, I saw Mrs. O  as a director for the first time. I saw how she was able to not only motivate all the cast members to be the best actors and actresses they can be but also to become friends. with them.  Mrs. O had a connection to each member of Fiddler on the Roof, cast and crew. Seeing how supportive she was and how much fun the actors had, I decided that I would try out for the STAGE competition play of These Shining Lives. Mrs. O is the reason I tried out for my first play. I remember how nervous I was for my first time auditioning for a play, but when I walked into the theatre room, her kindness, humor, and support instantly eased my fear. I remember once rehearsals started that she was extremely supportive. She would always help me, telling me what I did well and what I need to change. Mrs. O would answer any question I had, no matter when I asked them – before rehearsal, after rehearsal, or in class. If I needed help, I knew that she would be willing to help me, with the play or anything, because Mrs. O would go out of her way to establish a connection with her students and to help them succeed. I remember after our performance at the first round of the competition that she was just as excited as every cast and crew member. She was jumping up and down, clapping, yelling, and hugging everyone. Because I joined STAGE, I have made so many new friends. Some of my best friends I met solely because of STAGE. Mrs. O is the reason I met these people and became friends with them. One of my favorite stories about Mrs. O is when she organized a trip to see Into the Woods at the Harwich Junior Theatre. When we first got to our seats, she opened her purse and revealed to us that she had bought us all packs of candy. This simple act shows so much about her. Not only did she set up a trip to see a play and help us with our play review, but she also went as far as to buy candy for every person who went . As I sit here trying to find the right wording for this story, I realize that this truly is the hardest article I’ve had to write, because this article is a goodbye, a goodbye I am not ready to say. But it’s okay, because I know that when she moves to Texas, she will change the  lives of students over there in the same way she changed mine.

By Dan Souza, Class of 2015 – East 

New YorkIf I were to name any point in my life in which I believe that my life had changed, I would have to say that it was in mid-October of 2012. Why, you might ask? Well, I went to my first audition for STAGE, for a humorous little show called Museum. I sauntered into auditions one day because my friends Dean and Julia were also going to audition. Little did I know that because I decided to try out, I would make dozens of new friends afterwards. But anyways, enough with the foreshadowing. I was casted, and the director of the show was Mrs. Ollagnon. Throughout the show, Mrs. O challenged me to be the greatest actor I could be, even though this was my first show ever. This is one of the things that Mrs. O did: she would challenge you. When I played a lead in the spring show last year, Mrs. O told me soon after auditions, “I’m going to push you, and sometimes you’re not going to like it. But I’m going to push you, really, really hard.” I nodded, unaware of the fact that push was going to come to mean shove, as Mrs. O constantly continued to push things to the next level. Have you ever seen the Gatorade commercial, where there’ are a bunch of athletes sweating like pigs, constantly repeating, “One more?” It’s real – very, very real. But it would not be that way for me if not for Mrs. Ollagnon. Mrs. O encourages her students and actors but makes sure that they never grow content, and that they are always working to bring their performances to the next level. Another thing that Mrs. Ollagnon does: she is always your fan. Ever since my sophomore year, I have been convinced that Mrs. O was my biggest fan, and that she seriously wanted me to succeed. I believe that every teacher at Sturgis wants their students to succeed, but Mrs. O brings it to another level. I have never felt such a need to do something well because I wanted to make my teacher’s time worthwhile. Mrs. O put her heart into making her shows spectacular, and because of that, Mrs. O changed my life. She helped me to find my passion, acting, and I will always be grateful to her for that.  I have had many teachers that I enjoyed, who have changed my year in different ways. But I know that Mrs. O has changed my life forever. She is one of the most influential adults I have ever met, and I do not think I will ever be the same from this point on. Most importantly, Mrs. O has taught me that sometimes, it’s okay to be a little dramatic. I don’t have to keep everything bottled up, and I don’t have to hold myself back. Because we have theater. For me, there’s always going to be theater, as long as I remember to let people push me.

Mr. Robbins

By Rebekah Benedict, Business Assistant

Map of AfricaOne teacher who  made a lasting impression on my life was my 7th grade Geography teacher, Mr. Robbins.  It wasn’t because he was Mr. Nice Guy. On the contrary, he made no friendships with students.  He wasn’t a coach or a mentor. He’d have never been voted to speak at the graduation ceremony. No one would have ever gone to him for counsel, or even extra help with homework because of his intimidating presence.  Few words were ever exchanged between us, and the ones that were came from a man looking down his nose past his dark rimmed glasses at me as if I were bothering him.  His was the only class that gave me a hot sinking feeling in my chest on days that I hadn’t done my homework.

Mr. Robbins was a no-nonsense type of guy. Our desks were arranged in alphabetical order to ensure that there would be no socializing in class.  It worked, since my name was Foster and I wasn’t in the popular crowd with Wendy Fleet, and Charles Gillis was too introverted to talk to anybody.  Testing time was serious business, too. He would threaten an automatic “F” for anyone who so much as raised their head from their paper. Many teachers used similar vernacular, but none of them carried the air of authority that Mr. Robbins did and no one dared test him.

Anyone who attended Junior High in Sandwich during the 80’s will recall Mr. Robbins’  infamous “Map of Africa” project. It was the mother of all projects. The one that every single student (and their parents) has a story about.  A six foot outline of the continent of Africa that each student had to fill in freehand.  Every nation, capital city, important city, river and tributary was to be drawn and then colored in neatly using colored pencils; no markers. Talk about interrupting our social lives;  “Hey, can you hang out?” ” Nah, I gotta work on my map.”  We had 8 weeks, of course, but I procrastinated until the night before it was due to wrap up my city-finding and start coloring the thing in.  Who knew 24 square feet of paper would take from 7PM until 7AM the next morning?  My loving mother spent from 3AM until dawn helping me finish finding cities and color in the water. We went through 4 or 5 light blue colored pencils and the water in the Indian Ocean was a different color than the water in the Atlantic, but it couldn’t be helped.  And we never did find that one city in Nigeria called “Snibbor” in any atlas, either.

(An atlas is a book of maps and regions of all the countries in the world that people used in the old days as a reference similar to the way a dictionary was used to look up the meaning of words.  Al Gore had not invented the internet yet, so we had to physically thumb through pages and pages of big leather bound books to do our homework.)  

Your map had to be in the school building by 7:30AM, no excuses, or you got a big fat zero.  Luckily, our bodies didn’t have to be there, though.  There were many exhausted parents dropping off giant maps of Africa that morning, while many exhausted teenagers went to sleep for the first time in 24 hours.  This was a bone of contention between Sandwich moms for a while after that, too.  My friend Carey’s mom exchanged some heated words with my mom about how unfair it was that some kids managed their time properly and finished their own map, while other kids only got a good grade because their parents bailed them out. She had a point; I got an A minus.

Anyway, Mr. Robbins made an indelible impression on me for life. I never had another teacher that I respected so much and learned so much from. By the time I finished his class I could point to the Bering Straight or the country of Andorra with ease, and I could finally color between the lines. I also learned that there is no city named “Snibbor”, and that he spelled “Robbins” backwards as a test to see who would lie and fill in a city that did not exist because they didn’t want to get a point taken off their grade. Thus the reason there were no A pluses.

The point is that the teacher I feared and dreaded at the time became the teacher I look back on now with respect and admiration. His spirit of excellence made me want to please him.  I believe teachers who expect a lot out of you, GET a lot out of you.

Peter Steedman, Principal – Sturgis West

By Eric Hieser, Executive Director
(Excerpt from remarks at Sturgis West Graduation, May 31, 2014) 

I would like to digress a bit now so that I can recognize one person will be leaving us but who have meant so much to what Sturgis West has become.  He is someone who has shown outstanding leadership, judgment, commitment, and interpersonal connection to ensuring that Sturgis West has become a vibrant, challenging, and welcoming IB for All experience for students and faculty.  Please stand and be recognized for your outstanding service, Peter Steedman.

A Whirlwind of Celebrations

Congratulations DrOn March 25 during advisory, the Sturgis West community congratulated Principal Peter Steedman on successfully defending his dissertation and receiving his doctorate from Boston College. Thanks to Videographer Leslie Milsted for creating a video of the event:   Congratulations Dr. Steedman!

Pete Steedman's GraduationOn May 19, Peter Steedman received his graduate diploma from Boston College: Lynch School of Education. Photo shows Dr. Steedman with classmates decked out in full regalia for the 138th commencement of Boston College.

Pete in the Chair of HonorOn May 30, the eve of Sturgis graduation, Sturgis West students bid Peter Steedman a fond and creative goodbye including tributes by student leaders, an acapella performance and a Goodbye Mr. Steedman video created by Lauren Perry with seniors reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go:

Goodbye Mr. Steedman



Mr. Taggert

By Justin Scott, History – West

Mr. Taggert.  9th grade “Current Events” class.  He used “Hotel California” by the Eagles as a tool to explain why questioning people’s motives and thinking for yourself were so important.  In my fairly southern and religious town there was a movement to ban the song because it mentioned “stabbing a beast with steely knives.” He was the most thought-provoking teacher I ever had.

Lola Williams

By Marion Weeks, Community Outreach Coordinator
Lola Williams

Lola Williams

For the last ten years at Sturgis, I’ve had a chance to observe the daily workings and transformational qualities of “IB for All.” Sometimes, observations of our school culture and safe environment remind me of how different my high school experiences were at Durham High School in North Carolina during the late 60’s, early 70’s.

Those years were charged with daily news of the Viet Nam War and desegregation. Years later at a high school reunion, classmates and teachers remarked how it seemed we spent more time on the football field during bomb scares than we spent in classrooms. As hard as it was for students, I can only imagine how challenging it must have been for teachers to work in such a chaotic and distracting environment.

Looking back, I suppose I was one of those students who cruised through high school under the radar screen. I always loved to read but was not particularly engaged in high school until I walked into Lola William’s senior English classroom. I had never seen a teacher like her. She was a force of nature who spoke with passion and taught with her trademark physicality as though she were conducting a choir. She made all of us feel special. She seemed to start with the premise that we were intelligent, fascinating people so she could not wait to hear our opinion about whatever work of literature we were reading. She believed in our promise as writers and thinkers. In so doing, she helped us believe in ourselves.

As it turned out, my senior year of high school in 1972 was her last year of teaching before retirement. Over the years since then, we remained in touch. During our visits, I always found her deeply engaged in life-long interests: writing poetry, discussing recent books and films, composing music for Shakespeare’s sonnets, cooking gourmet meals, creating moss paths through her flower gardens. My final visit with her was last July just before she passed away – only three months shy of her 100th birthday.

Many friends, former students and colleagues attended the celebration of her life held on November 3, 2013 (her 100th birthday) at Duke University Gardens. It was an afternoon filled with performances of her compositions, great stories and many laughs. Her students (some of them quite elderly now!) spoke of their great good fortune to have crossed paths and come under the magical influence of such an extraordinary teacher. Celebrating Lola’s wonderful life and treasured friendship on her 100th birthday turned out to be a gift for everyone there:  her final class on the art of living well.


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