July 8, 2013
A legacy teaching in nature’s classroom
Retirement party celebrates BOCES environmental program creator
CORTLANDVILLE — Well over 100 people gathered Saturday at the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture to celebrate the 37-year teaching career of Tim Sandstrom.
Sandstrom began the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES New Visions program 19 years ago, which focuses on environmental science while utilizing a hands-on, out of classroom approach for high school students.
“This preserve is the students’ lab,” said Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow. “He’s the founder of this whole program. He put his heart and soul into it.”
Many of Sandstrom’s former students were present at the celebration, and recollections of Sandstrom all seemed to center of one thing.
“He made learning fun,” said Jerry Ward, who had Sandstrom as a science teacher in 1983. “He just had a way of making things intriguing. You didn’t even know you were learning.”
“I struggled sitting in a room and having teachers jaw at me all day,” said Dylan Spencer, a 2000 alumnus of Cortland High School who took Sandstrom’s New Visions course his junior and senior years.
“With him, you did more hands on stuff that you don’t normally do in high school.”
Spencer is studying environmental construction technology at Tompkins Cortland Community College and credits Sandstrom for helping him maintain a lifelong love of nature.
The only black cloud of the celebration was the fact that no one wanted to see Sandstrom go.
“I know he needs his rest, but the community is certainly losing a great man,” said Ray Parker, a former student. “He wasn’t just a teacher. He was a friend.”
Sandstrom’s sister-in-law, Martie Tumber, echoed Parker’s words.
“He has touched all of these people’s lives,” said Tumber. “He’s been pivotal in helping kids turn things around. His legacy is here with him today.”
Before coming to BOCES, Sandstrom taught science in Arizona for 7 years and was a junior-high science teacher at Cortland High for 12 years.
As Sandstrom came from the hiking trails to one of Lime Hollow’s pavilion’s, all of the party’s attendees lined the last few hundred feet of the trail, sending up a roar of applause and congratulations as Sandstrom walked by.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Sandstrom said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was like running a gauntlet of honor.”
When asked why he had chosen to retire after 37 years, Sandstrom had to take a moment to collect himself, clearly feeling the emotion of the occasion.
“Every time in the past that I said yes to extending my career, I was saying no to my family,” said Sandstrom. “Now, after 30 years of missing birthday parties it’s time to stop.”
Sandstrom says that although he’s looking forward to retirement, there will be things that he’ll miss.
“When I get to start out with a new group of kids in September, it’s like I’m being recreated,” Sandstrom said. “That’s what I’ll miss the most. The daily contact with the kids.”
After 37 years of touching countless people’s lives, Sandstrom’s definition of success is one of humility.
“They’ve all said that I made learning fun,” Sandstrom said. “It’s just the fact that they even remember me and the lessons that I taught.”
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