This teacher had a Hawkeye for the future 

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/19/2020 10:15:23 PM
Modified: 1/19/2020 10:14:24 PM

It’s as though the teacher and the hawk had a plan.

Maybe the hawk flew a tad slower for Edwina Czajkowski and her 4th grade students, made it easier to get a good look through their binoculars, to capture wildlife in all its splendor.

For her part, perhaps Czajkowski, who died last month at the age of 82, promised to devote her life to conservation, Mother Earth, clean energy sources like solar heat, integrating environmental education into the Concord School District curriculum, penguins, hawks, you name it.

“She certainly was teaching about environmentalism when it was just getting started in the early 1970s, before the movement we see today” said LiseBofinger, a teacher in Concord for 30 years. “She was way ahead of it.”

Czajkowski’s obituary said she died “after complications from a fall.” She retired from teaching in Concord 22 years ago, but her friends and colleagues, those who knew this private person best, made sure to alert us when she passed.

Former students, now in their 50s and 60s, recalled the excitement of outdoor classes, making them feel special at the time and turning schoolwork into an adventure.

Bofinger, whose mother was friends with Czajkowski, teaches  freshwater ecology at Concord High and is the curriculum facilitator for science. She was plugged into this mentor. She said that’s why she earned her degree in Masters of science teaching. From observing and listening to Czajkowski.

“I watched her with little kids and I saw the passion for teaching kids about science, using the outdoors as the vehicle,” Bofinger told me. “That is what I have done at Concord High School. I teach in the class, but the thing I enjoy most is getting kids outside.”

You can’t mention this late teacher without someone’s mind flashing back to the bookmobile. Czajkowski drove this library on wheels each year. She helped ignite curiosity in the kids, open their minds to different worlds, introduce them to a hobby that doesn’t grow old like we do.

“She drove to the far reaches of Concord in the bookmobile, ” said Betty Hoadley, who taught economics and geopolitics at Concord High before retiring in 1994. “My kids would get on the phone and call every family in the neighborhood and they’d all be running to the bookmobile. She brought reading to us.”

Bofinger was a student at Eastman grade school in those days and said, “She remembered what books every kid liked, probably in the whole district. The day the bookmobile came, it was special. She made it special. You’re wondering, ‘How the heck did all those books get to my school?’ It was magic.”

If hawks, penguins, cows, fish, birds and anything else with a heartbeat could speak, they’d also praise Czajkowski. For caring about them.

She took her fifth-graders on whale watches. She introduced kids in kindergarten to cows and sheep. She showed first graders how to meet and greet chickadees at White Farm, teaching them to hold seeds in their flattened palms and then standing there in amazement as the bird swooped in for a snack.

Her students followed and documented animal tracks, got dirty studying wetlands and used a microscope to study plants. They utilized solar power to heat water, then watched a man, a special guest, wash his beard, before the students washed their feet, amazed that the water had heated up so quickly and efficiently.

And Czajkowski also founded the SEE, or School Environmental Education. And remember, these programs and ideas were hatched in the 1970s, when few gave a hoot and instead chose to pollute.

Chris Demers is the assessment coordinator at Concord High School. He had the unenviable task of replacing Czajkowski as the leader of the SEE program upon her retirement in 1998.

“I had no confidence taking over (the SEE) that first year because all I heard was, ‘You have big shoes to fill,’ ” Demers said. “She was a tour de force and she built this amazing program and I was the lucky or unlucky person to take over. Her K through 6-grade students were not pretending to be scientists; they were expected to do the work of scientists.”

Nothing, it seems, could compare to the majestic flight of the hawk, soaring, gliding, searching for food. The beauty here is that the hawk and the teacher had something in common through the decades: Vision.

The hawk used vision to hunt prey, the teacher to look to the future, get a head start, begin her lifelong philosophy of never – ever – taking this planet for granted.

She’d position her students at high elevations, like on a stretch at Carter Hill Orchard. Sometimes the kids would sit in lawn chairs and wait. They squinted through binoculars, and they were often rewarded for their patience.

LuAnne Pigeon, who retired last June after teaching in Concord for 24 years, called Czajkowski her mentor. She made sure I knew that it was Czajkowski whose effort led to an educational grant 50 years ago, money Czajkowski used to build the SEE program.

She mentioned Czajkowski’s aversion to the spotlight, saying, “She would not want to know that we are giving her any accolades. She would take a good idea and make it happen and then showcase you as the individual with the great idea.”

She said her mentor craved privacy, calling Czajkowski, who never married and had no family, “painfully shy.” Even the circumstances surrounding her friend’s passing were private, with Pigeon shedding little light on what happened the day Czajkowski died.

“Complications from a fall,” Pigeon noted, “and that’s a part of her life that is hers alone.”

She continued: “A visionary. I cannot use any other word. She was just all about educating people and helping them understand what a wonderful planet we live on.”

It was all part of their plan. The one made by the teacher and the hawk.




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