Mrs. Sandra Biswell
4th Grade Homeroom
Born and raised in California, Sandy took an unconventional path in her education and teaching career. As a student at the University of California at Irvine - she entered as a declared English major, as her first love was, and continues to be, writing. After her second year, she became acquainted with the school’s reputation as one of the premiere medical research centers and schools in the country which piqued her analytical and science-minded interests. It was in the Fall of her Junior year that she then added a second major - Biology. Not wanting to draw out her undergraduate career, Sandy got special permission from the dean to carry an extended course load and extra units -- allowing her to finish both degrees in just five years with both a Bachelor of Arts in English and Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. Sandy’s combination of her love of writing and science culminated with her acceptance into the school’s highly-competitive medical research program in her senior year -- where she worked with two well-known medical doctors and professors on a now-famous study of the positive effects of cyclosporine on subjects undergoing limb and organ transplantation and its ability to prevent “graft v. host” disease - a condition which would often lead to rejection of the new organ or limb. After some long days and nights of being a “freshman” on the rigors of around-the-clock lab work, exacting data measurements, technical writing and learning the procedures in a vivarium and medical-grade laboratory, at graduation she had the honor of co-authoring a paper, along with five of her colleagues and the professors, which was accepted for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, on their findings. After her departure from the university these studies were the basis of many clinical trials and FDA authorizations which resulted in a cyclosporine-based compound that has helped countless individuals live healthy and long lives after a necessary transplantation.
In her first years out of college Sandy worked in the corporate world with United Parcel Service. She worked her way up to become an Executive Speechwriter to the Vice President of the Pacific Region - where she learned how to craft all of his scripted communications for both frontline employees such as delivery drivers and package sorters, and for external audiences at chamber meetings, and various business forums to which he was invited several times a year. She also had the opportunity to flex her creative muscle in developing the first-ever district-wide newspaper which was sent to thousands of employee homes each quarter, and she was invited to work with the corporate team from Atlanta on a nation-wide television commercial campaign filmed near her district in Southern California -- placed in charge of procuring talent, solidifying locations and coordinating with city and county governments to obtain necessary filming permits. Sandy concluded her career with UPS after several years, transferring to the sales and marketing branch of the company as a Major Account Executive, honing her customer service skills with the responsibility to penetrate and retain existing customers who spent $1 million per year-plus in revenue.
Her exit from UPS brought her and her husband their first child and a move, as they relocated across the country to Tennessee where they grew their family. After their second child she started her own business,“The Word Doc”, which helped small- and medium-sized businesses with communications and desktop publishing needs, keeping her writing and designing skills sharp. She found a niche with foreign language speakers who, wanting to grow their business, found it difficult to advertise in English. It was in this entrepreneurial endeavor that she learned her heart for teaching and mentoring as her role became one of an English teacher -- helping her clients not only with their marketing materials, but with their everyday conversational skills as well. She discovered it was the connection with the people, and the shared excitement when they grasped a new concept and skill that far outpaced any joy that she had experienced in her professional life thus far.
Sandy continued to pursue more teaching-types of positions as her family grew and another move sent her family here to Phoenix, Arizona. One of her first assignments in the valley was with Sunshine Group Homes as an in-house teacher and tutor in several of the organization’s foster homes. She worked with youth from Kindergarten up to high school on all subjects and once again found that same joy in connecting with the students, walking alongside them as a coach and mentor and having the privilege, as they walked a challenging road, to encourage them and instill in them a sense of worth and value that a broken life had tried to take away from them.
It was these teaching experiences that then helped Sandy gain the exciting opportunity to teach English to children in China through a company headquartered in Beijing. Due to the 15 hour time difference, her days would start at 2 a.m. - turning on the computer to the virtual classroom, teaching a curriculum which incorporated social studies, math, science, phonics and grammar in an English immersion program. Many of her students did not know any English at all and some had never even seen a teacher from the Western world. Over the years teaching in China, she met over 800 different students and taught over 2,000 classes. She received several accolades and awards from the parents and was invited to the Rural Education Project fellowship - which gave her the opportunity to teach English classes online within the Chinese schools in the far remote farmlands of China, a system that is normally closed off to most foreigners. It was a project in partnership with “Teach America”, and it gave the poorest of children in remote villages - accessible only by dangerous and impassable roads, the opportunity of a lifetime to learn English with a native speaker. The video chat equipment, the curriculum, the teacher’s salary and sometimes even the internet/satellite needed to access the classes was all paid for through generous donations of this partnership. It was a turning point in Sandy’s career as a teacher, as she grew her skills in many ways -- learning how to manage a class of 30 over the internet and also, her biggest -- a class of 90 junior high students. During her tenure, she was blessed with an all-expense paid trip to Beijing, China where she lived for a month. Invited to live with her student’s families, she travelled to places like Chengdu to see the giant pandas, and climbed the steep steps of fog-shrouded mountains to see Taoist monks that live today the same way that they did thousands of years ago. She visited the ancient city of Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors and saw the sights all around Beijing, including walking on the Great Wall of China, visiting the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Her most memorable stop was in the Shaanxi province, a very rural farming community -- far away from Beijing, and the home to the rural school that she only knew via the virtual classroom. It took her several hours by rail and two very long bus rides along bumpy roads, to arrive at the school. As she arrived -- the children were lined up outside the dilapidated brick building and cheered and waved paper banners. It was a humbling experience to meet the headmaster, who was also the town grower/supplier of wheat. She gained an appreciation of the abundance we have here at home, as she saw the crumbling walls, the leaking roofs and the school bathroom which was no more than a pit behind a wall. What impressed her was that these kids had so little in life, yet they had so much love to give. It was an incredible journey and one that she sometimes cannot believe she ever got the chance to experience. Sandy taught online for several years and also received her TOEFL certification along with specialties in phonics and reading. She also partnered with the CEO of a local, non-profit technology instruction firm here in Buckeye, and together - they wrote, produced, edited and even acted in several curriculum videos for ESL students. Sandy and her partner were offered a contract with the company in Beijing who bought the rights to the videos to share on their platform. Sandy had to tragically step back from the early morning hours of teaching upon news of her sixth child which took a tragic turn in the discovery of a blood disorder that ended the pregnancy and required chemotherapy treatment. As she recuperated both physically and emotionally, she asked the Lord for healing and vowed to never give up, and to come back stronger and healthier than ever before. The Lord answered prayers and as Sandy regained her strength, she became a regular at the fitness club and spoke with many of the fitness instructors and trainers. They discovered her love of teaching, and as her health renewed - they encouraged her to join their team. Sandy then incorporated her love of teaching with her passion for staying physically fit and became a certified Indoor Cycling instructor, and she accomplished one of her life-long goals of participating in a Triathlon relay, completing the 15 mile biking portion of the event for her team, earning them 4th place overall. Sandy was then invited to get her national certification and licensure as a Personal Trainer and join the training team of L.A. Fitness, and as her client base grew she realized her gift of training senior adults (60-plus in years). She did much study and research on the importance of weight and strength training to help stop osteoporosis and helping seniors with balance issues, preventing falls and other injuries. She went into further specialization and worked with seniors with cognitive challenges - especially dementia and Alzheimer's - learning about the effects of the disease on regressed learning and how physical fitness can slow, and often reverse, some of these devastating symptoms. She prepared and designed all of her classes with a cognitive element in each class -- challenging their mental capacities with different directional exercises and using music as therapy -- using familiar rhythms and beats from songs from their generations with specially choreographed moves in programs she designed to work all areas of their body. She also studied yoga and taught different breathing techniques in her classes as a form of mental focus and relaxation. Sandy worked in several assisted living and memory care facilities in the valley as the senior fitness instructor and is overjoyed that all of the homes reported a significant decline in both depression and falls since beginning the program.
Even though Sandy was enjoying her fitness career, she longed for an opportunity to be back in the classroom in an academic capacity. Although offered a teaching position at a local junior high, she did not feel called to be in the public school. She continued to pray, and the Lord opened the door at Grace Fellowship Academy for her to become part of a team in a wonderful Christ-centered, conservative school setting. The Lord had truly given her the desire of her heart!
Sandy is beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to teach 4th grade this school year and has decided to make her classroom theme “travel”, in honor of the many paths and roads she has travelled to get her to her destination. Her favorite scripture is Phillippians 4:11-13: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” It also summarizes her teaching philosophy,as Sandy encourages all of her students to look beyond life’s circumstances, to have joy in the One who created us and know that in all seasons, at all times - on the sun-filled paths and the rained out roads-- the Lord is good, and that when He increases in our life and we step aside, there is not one among us who cannot say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Sandy and her husband Randy live in Buckeye, Arizona with their five children. She enjoys hiking, weight lifting and swimming. The Biswell’s are avid animal lovers and own 4 dogs, 4 cats, 2 turtles and an emu.