As she enters her 19th year of teaching at Wheeler, Sarah Berthiaume Leduc P’32 is being recognized for all that she brings to her classroom and Chemistry lab as the latest recipient of the Endowed Chair for Excellence in Upper School Teaching. Yet, when we asked her to reflect on this well-deserved title, she began by praising her fellow faculty members.
“To receive this award from my Upper School colleagues is such an incredible honor,” said Ms. Berthiaume Leduc. “Wheeler is an incredible place to be an educator, and I am in awe of my colleagues every day. They are dedicated, innovative, and inspiring; collaboration is encouraged and supported across departments and divisions, and the faculty and staff are always creating and evolving, from a single lesson plan to the creation of entire programs, always with a student-centered approach. To be a part of such a dynamic place inspires me each day.”
The Endowed Chair selection is a faculty-driven process, with recipients needing to have been at Wheeler for at least ten years while serving as an exemplary teacher, exceptional advisor to both individual students and student organizations, and a dedicated and supportive colleague and member of the school community.
“This recognition is especially meaningful after the past couple of years,” Ms. Berthiaume Leduc said. “As we all know, being an educator during this time has been extremely challenging, and in the Science Department, like many others, we faced unprecedented challenges. I am so proud of my department colleagues for their determination and perseverance to creatively teach inquiry-based science despite so many restrictions due to the pandemic.”
Reciprocally, Head of Upper School Neeltje Henneman commended Ms. Berthiaume Leduc for creating incredible and imaginative educational experiences for her students. “I’ve never met a teacher who works more intently to refine and develop her craft, and Sarah has emerged as a community leader in inquiry-based education,” Ms. Henneman said. “She is an inspiration to her colleagues and her students.”
Since beginning her career at Wheeler, Ms. Berthiaume Leduc has taught all of the Grade 10 Chemistry courses, and she has also taught Biology and elective courses over the years. She has been the Nursery through Grade 12 Science Department Chairperson for more than a decade, an Upper School advisor, and an advisor to the Peer Support program. She has also been the longtime Student Activities Coordinator in the Upper School.
“An important goal for me as a science educator is for all students to feel like scientists and feel empowered to do science, experience science, and develop inquiry, critical thinking and science literacy skills that will reach far beyond the Chemistry lab,” said Ms. Berthiaume Leduc. “Student-centered learning, experiential learning, and inquiry-based learning are the core guiding principles in the Chemistry curriculum that I have developed over the years. Crafting innovative lessons, labs, and science experiences for my students in Chemistry brings me such excitement and joy as an educator (and often quite literally keeps me up at night)!”
Another focus of Ms. Berthiaume Leduc is interdisciplinary teaching and student learning that goes beyond Chemistry. She wants to highlight the importance of students taking what they learn in Chemistry and intersecting it with other subjects and programs, from Math and Technology to Art, Unity and Diversity, History, Design and Innovation, and Aerie Enrichment. She emphasizes that “students are empowered and invigorated when they experience connections across disciplines and apply their learning to their life experiences.”
“A highlight of my career at Wheeler has been (and still is) teaching the Fundamentals of Chemistry course which I developed with the Academic Support department and which now works closely with the Polaris team (that provides support to Upper School students with language-based learning differences) to continually improve,” she said. “It is so important to me that all of my students have access to research experiences and every student is seen, heard, and celebrated for their successes and joyful learning in science. My approach is to work with them and find that spark, that question, that wonder that supports their engagement, and then support them to learn not only the scientific principles behind it, but also to view science as a way of thinking that can be applied across many aspects of their lives.”
Before joining Wheeler, Ms. Berthiaume Leduc earned a Bachelor in Biochemistry and worked as a lab research assistant at Brown University in Molecular Biology. Then she went on to teach science at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, California, for five years. While pursuing a Masters degree in Education and teaching high school Chemistry and Biology full-time, she quickly learned that she loved teaching and working with students.
As for what is ahead in her new role of Endowed Chair, Ms. Berthiaume Leduc expressed her eagerness to advance the mission of the Science Department and continue to work on curriculum design and inquiry-based learning both within her own department and with colleagues in other departments. “I enjoy mentoring and partnerships with colleagues, and I hope to work with teachers who would like to explore more inquiry-based learning in their curricula or collaborate on cross-disciplinary lessons,” she said. “Wheeler is a dynamic place, and the opportunity to collaborate on new lessons, ideas, and programs with amazing colleagues and with institutional support is such a gift.”
Ms. Berthiaume Leduc also intends to resume a project she had started before the COVID-19 pandemic as she aspires to develop independent, scientific research opportunities for all Wheeler students as part of the curriculum. “Additionally, in my role as Student Activities Coordinator, I hope to continue to build and maintain community in the Upper School this year with many more in person events, as well as supporting the student group leaders to build connections with each other, with WHeeLS (Whole Life Seminar) and Community Service Programs, and partnerships outside of Wheeler as well.”
We are tremendously grateful for Sarah Berthiaume Leduc’s commitment to our students and to Wheeler’s mission.