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There are buteos, butterflies, and whales to watch

By Jim BencivengaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 17, 1980



Concord, N.H.

If one were to characterize the approach to teaching espoused by Edwina Czajkowski, the starting point would be her tendency to see the total community as her teacher, student, and classroom. This was evident from the first day she arrived in Concord.

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Her "rendezvous" could well be in a Hollywood script. Fifteen years ago the car she was driving broke down here. The town and its people were so helpful in assisting her get it fixed that she wanted to know more about the area. Not only did she like what she discovered, she decided to stay.

And the town bears her imprint.

Hawk-watching, which was introduced eight years ago in the Concord schools and is just one of the many programs she initiated as district environmental-education coordinator, is so proficient that the Hawk Migration Association of America uses data on seasonal migrations collected by her young students.

Hawk T-Shirts and a watcher convention are part of the Concord landscape now. Sandlot softball games will stop rather than have anyone miss a buteo (soaring hawk), and young necks craning upward are joined by many older ones as well.

The flight of monarch butterflies is being monitored for the Audubon Society by the children of Concord under a joint project Ms. Czajkowski introduced. Careful recording and documentation of data are just some of the skills learned for both of these "heavenward" gazing endeavors.

A 40-acre community vegetable garden testifies to the nutritional awareness she has brought to the community. It is the offshoot of an initial one-acre garden experiment developed at a junior high school to complement lessons on nutrition. When she noticed how easily fatigued some students became while she was snowshoeing with them, then observed their "high protein" diet of candy bars and sugar fixes, she knew nutrition had to be stressed in a more comprehensive way.

Ever one ot utilize a community resource, this successful educator and committed environmentalist found out that the city owned an unused acre of land near one of the district's junior highs. It wasn't long before ground was broken for the garden. A root cellar in the basement of the superintendent's office exists where an unused coal bin once was. A natural extension to the nutrition project, it stores the bounty of the project.

A farmers market for selling locally grown produce, "rather than shipping it down to Boston to be processed and then shipping it back up to local supermarkets," evolved naturally with the increased community awareness originally sparked by the junior high garden, assistant superintendent Mark Beauvais adds.

The comments of a local businessman, who said the schools were engendering attitudes of dependency by causing students to do what teachers said rather than fostering in them the initiative to be independent and start their own businesses, gave Ms. Czajkowski an idea for a student- run "Snack Factory."

The snack factory complemented her interests in good nutrition ("You can't teach an empty stomach," she is fond of saying). It met a concern expressed by an important segment of the Concord community, and filled the specific needs of the school district to provide snacks for its elementary students.

The fact that this program attracted turned-off and disaffected senior high students and resulted in their working in conjunction with local businessmen further proved her contention that good education would result when all sectors of the community became involved in it.

"School must be the lamp, not the mirror," Ms. Czajkowski firmly believes. "Students and teachers must get out and see where they live, try to understand the myriad relationship of nature of which they are an integral part. The classroom should never artificially separate the wonder of nature from the study of it."

The stretch of the Merrimack River that borders Concord provided her with another ready proof that all members of a community can assists in education. Overhearing some students talk disparagingly about an elderly woman who lived by the river, she sought out the individual and discovered in her a treasure trove of information on the river's history and physical characteristics. It wasn't long before Concord students were going on field trips conducted by the very same person, albeit in a much more positive role.

With the ocean only 40 miles away, walking tours of tidal pools and even the chartering of boats for whale watches are scheduled regularly.

It is at these outings that the ultimate in community outreach occurs for Edwina Czajkowski. She and her students expectantly launch note-filled bottles into the ocean currents. From past experience they know they will receive answers.