The community salutes beloved and retiring faculty, who have collectively served the School for more than a century.
“I remember so vividly feeling like an equal when we were given the time and space to just talk about books,” Kate Villa ’10 says about her time in Anne Charny’s Middle School English class.
For two decades, Charny created a sense of comfort, safety, and belonging in her Middle School classroom—particularly important for students in their awkward, pre-teen years. Her love of literature—from Shakespeare to Hurston, Achebe to Adichie—ignited in her students an interest in diverse perspectives and curiosity about the world.
Just as importantly, Charny supported her colleagues in becoming more thoughtful educators. “Her passion for developing inquiry-based learning habits among students has lifted us all,” Middle School teacher Andrew Callard says. “I am grateful for her impressive example and leadership, which helped us explore our craft of teaching more deeply.”
Caitlin Lesczynski ’09 speaks for many of her fellow alumni: “To know and be taught by Ms. Charny is to have the privilege of being led through the wonders of the literary world by an expert guide and the pleasure of being set alight by a true champion and dear friend.”
“Mrs. Fields is the reason I went into science as a career,” Andrew Berstein ’03 says. It’s a statement echoed by generations of Sidwell Friends students who transformed
their experiences in Melanie Fields’s Upper School science classes into careers in medicine, public health, research, and education. For many students, like Bruce Altevogt ’94, Fields’s “commitment to push the boundaries of what high school biology students could do” set them on a lifelong path of scientific discovery.
“Her classes were not just classes; they were enterprises, and she invited us all to be participants in the fullest sense— not just as students but as collaborators and creative leaders,” Daniel Winik ’03 says. Julian Weiss ’12 agrees: “Her passion for science and knack for finding creative ways of teaching it through hands-on demonstrations and activities definitely brought out my own passions and sparked a drive in me that really hasn't stopped since.”
And Fields’s leadership in the Outing Club was just as memorable for those she took on trips through wild spaces across the United States. “She was a true mentor to students outside the classroom and created a strong sense of community in the Outing Club,” Minh Le ’91 remembers. “Our trip to Joshua Tree brought so many of us closer together.”
Energy. Enthusiasm. Excitement. When Richard “Mr. L” Lesczynski’s students reflect on experiences in his Middle School history classroom, they describe a teacher in constant motion. Rachel Brown ’11 recalls “the zeal he brought to the classroom—including occasionally jumping and shouting—which brought U.S. history alive and made us all excited to keep learning.”
“He made every bit of history into a fascinating story, and his presentation of these stories was nothing short of a performance,” Carolyn Peyser ’11 says. According to Max Weiner ’09, this is why “Mr. L is a once-in-a-lifetime teacher whose energy, warmth, and passion for learning are still with me today.”
Students and parents also remember the Russian-exchange program that Mr. L initiated, including the new cultures they explored and the delight in travel it fostered. “He lived through the Cold War and knew how literally dangerous ‘othering’ can be,” Maya (Soble) Winkelstein ’02 says. “The program was ultimately started as a way to humanize each other. This lesson is one of the most important I learned during my eight years at Sidwell Friends. It is still the most important lesson any of us can learn.”
Wait a minute: Didn’t Barbara Davison retire in 2014? Indeed, she did, yet returned the next academic year to fill a short-term vacancy in the 4th grade—one that lasted six years!
Of course, it’s hard for her colleagues to say goodbye to the “Yoda of the Lower School”: the person they go to for honest advice about teaching and parenting, says Eve Eaton. “Barbara’s gift as a teacher, colleague, and a friend is that she always makes whomever she is speaking with feel heard and valued,” Edith Zhang says. It’s a sentiment Kathleen Geier echoes: “She somehow always knew exactly what you needed to hear. She would ask the perfect question that you didn’t even know you were waiting to be asked.”
Most importantly, she extended her warmth and wisdom to her students. “She has a real appreciation of students as individuals. She accepted and nurtured who they are, shaping them to be the best that they can be while being true to themselves,” Zarya Navarro says. “We all know that she is the real thing: sincere, true, and kind.”
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