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Remembering Sheila Dunston

Arthur Camins, Elementary Mathematics and Science Director, Hudson School District, Hudson, MA
March 14, 2006 | In Memoriam

Sheila Dunston, my friend and colleague, passed away suddenly in August 2005. She died far too young, but she left a legacy of individual accomplishment and systemic reform.

Sheila Dunston and I began our work together counting gram cubes in the basement of our school district's administration building. It was one of her first days as the Science Professional Developer for Community School District 16 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. I know she was wondering what counting measurement cubes in a dungeon-like cellar to refurbish science kits had to do with helping teachers, but she did not let on. The next day, she was front and center, loading and unloading FOSS boxes from a 20-foot rented truck, but she did not complain. She just changed her shoes, rolled up her sleeves, and did what needed to be done. That was Sheila.

Sheila spent thousands of hours with teachers across New York City, at conferences, in school in-service workshops, and in classrooms. She just wanted teachers to love science and become better science teachers. On a few occasions Sheila even ventured into the wilds to do field work with teachers. Mind you, hiking was not Sheila's favorite activity—she was a city gal. So when we led teachers on a team-building hike in the Pocono Mountains, and came to a dashing creek that had to be crossed, she paused. Later she confided that she was terrified. Her commitment, however, proved greater than her impulse to retreat. She fought back her fear and trepidation, took off her shoes, and pulled herself across the creek on a log, gripping with hands and feet like an octopus. She did not recognize limits for herself or for those she touched. She led by example...with or without shoes.


Sheila and a group of teachers from the Philippa Schuyler Middle School, Brooklyn, New York, attended the FOSS Earth History workshop at Grand Canyon in 2004. From left to right, Jinny Chung, Shaniquoa Elrington, Delfina Warrick-King, William Hamlet, and Sheila Dunston.

Sheila and I worked together in one of the poorest districts in New York City with an entirely minority population. Many demanded much of our students, but expected little. Not Sheila. She believed that "our kids" could learn anything and fought for them relentlessly. Sheila knew that science education was about learning how the world works, but she also saw it as a vehicle for helping children become thinkers and actors in their world. As a result, Sheila helped countless children and teachers push their limits and discover their potential. She was fiercely committed to the children and teachers of her community and exemplified "teacher" in the broadest terms.

Sheila was a master teacher, a pioneer in the development and implementationof FOSS, a tireless science staff developer, and a reliable, insightful colleague.

We will all miss her, but we will continue to be inspired by the memory of her zeal and dedication to science education.

Arthur Camins,
Elementary Mathematics and Science
Hudson School District
Hudson, MA