BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — In her 40 years as an Anthony Wayne High School biology teacher, Val Sido has become known for her weather predictions, her plant-filled room and for cheering on athletes, actors and musicians at just about every school event – but it’s her legacy of preparing students for careers in sciences that gives the soon-to-retire teacher the most satisfaction.
“I’ve had kids who hated science until they took this class. Something we talked about piqued their interest,” said Sido, referring to students who now have careers in medicine, veterinary science, environmental science, research and science education. “I think I’ve influenced a lot of kids.”
Madison Marks, a 2015 graduate who is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and Jimmy Cross, a 2007 graduate who now works as a physician assistant, credit Sido for influencing their decisions to pursue biological sciences.
“She made learning fun and always encouraged my class to stay curious,” Marks said. “She was a role model for me in both my academic studies and in generally developing myself to be a better person.”
Cross said Sido’s sophomore year biology class captured his attention.
“She made biology and science fascinating. She personified minute, microscopic aspects of a cell and the body to something I could grasp and genuinely want to learn more about,” Cross said.
Yet Sido didn’t plan to become a teacher. Instead, she wanted to become a doctor, like her father Dr. Robert Sido, who moved the family to Waterville in 1966 and opened a practice that later became Waterville Family Physicians.
Before graduating from AWHS in 1976, Sido was a Marching General, playing the clarinet. She joined the band at Hillsdale College, playing bassoon and clarinet while she minored in music and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. When she didn’t make it into med school, Sido instead took the advice of her grandmother and the Marching Generals director, Robert Shoemaker, and earned a teaching certificate from The University of Toledo. She then joined the AWHS staff for the 1981-82 school year.
While she has taught botany, invertebrate zoology, anatomy and physiology, honors biology was her primary course over the years. As she taught biology, Sido said she learned to love the science even more.
“To me it’s amazing how wonderfully we’re made and how things work. It’s fascinating all this that makes us who we are,” she said.
As a Christian, some might question how she could balance her faith with scientific facts, but she said both feed her amazement of how miraculous life can be, and she often encouraged her students to be thankful for their health and ability to grow.
Sido describes her teaching style as traditional, focusing on notes, labs and hands-on learning. Requiring such intense work might have irritated some of her students, but she knows it prepared them for college and careers in which attention to detail, written documentation and experimentation are required.
“There are things I don’t think you can learn from a computer or watching videos online,” she said. “Do you want to see a doctor who has never treated a person before?”
Students entering Sido’s first-floor classroom are always in awe of the nearly 100 plants that line the windowsills. While some are for ambience, most – like the Venus flytrap – relate to biology. In the beginning of the year, she’ll point to the spider plant, with its flowering shoots, and tell the students that they’re witnessing reproduction in action.
“I’ll say, ‘Look, they’re doing it right now, and there’s not flashing lights in the classroom at night while we’re gone,’” she laughed. “We’ll talk about stamens and pistols as the sex parts.”
Some don’t appreciate her humor, she admits, but most admire the plants that she regularly waters.
Sido’s ability to somewhat accurately predict the weather, using maps and understanding the science, prompted a student to create a “What Would Sido Say?” poster in which her face is placed on a promotion for 13abc meteorologist Jay Berschback, whose tagline is “What Does Jay Say?”
Sido is also known for her “AWHSBio” vehicle license that she’s had since her 25th year of teaching.
While she’s obviously a proponent of learning about biology, Sido has gone the extra mile over the years to support all of the students – even those not in her classroom.
Although she worked nights and weekends in retail, including 19 at Camelot Music and 12 at Talbot’s, Sido always found time to attend AW events, from band concerts and musicals to baseball, softball, lacrosse, basketball and football.
“Kids know when you’re there, and it’s a good conversation-starter with them,” she said.
Sido rarely missed a Friday night football game, and she’ll keep the 50-yard-line tickets she’s had for years.
In retirement, she doesn’t have plans other than to continue taking her 85-year-old father out to dinner every night – and go to games.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but when August comes and I’m not moving back into my classroom, I think it will,” she said.