The founder of Sanborn School's popular and annual Harvest Festival has written an autobiographical book about her teaching career that took her around the world.
Now a retired 81-year-old grandmother living in Dracut, Mary Beakey Guziejka, taught music at Sanborn School for 16 years. She taught music for a total of 50 years, leaving Sanborn to take a sabbatical to teach music in England. Following that, she worked for the Department of Defense Dependents School system and taught music to the children of military personnel for another 20 years in Okinawa, Japan, Turkey and Italy.
Her just-released self-published book, "Just the Right Note," (Amazon.com, $36), is 616 pages of her teaching adventures and classroom experiences. A strong supporter of music and the performing arts for kids, she insists that all children benefit from a music program in their school – even the not so well-behaved students.
"I've seen all kinds of students and I know how important music and the performing arts are for kids," said Guziejka. "They can make a student feel better about themself and that's so important."
The former teacher writes about Sanborn musicals and its annual square-dance event in the book.
All those years at Sanborn she pushed a piano from classroom to classroom to teach music as she didn't have a music room until her last year, she said.
"And I pulled a wagon, which had all of my other instruments," she said.
Former Superintendent of Schools Ken Seifert remembers Guziejka well. He approved her sabbatical.
"Mary never considered music as an extra subject. She always considered music as a very basic discipline that permeated our lives," Seifert said. "Plato said there were only two subjects to be taught in the early years of a child’s life, physical education and the arts. I think Mary believed it."
Seifert said she was particularly skilled at developing stage productions and could incorporate many grade levels in one production.
"She reminded me of The Music Man in that [belief that] every school should have a good music program," he said.
Upon returning from the sabbatical, she went back to Sanborn Elementary. It was 1979 and she brought an English keepsake that she would share with the Andover school. In England, she took part in a festival with her daughter, Amy, and music students. They visited older folks, mostly living alone in villages, and brought small gifts. The smiles were priceless, she said.
"I remember one man who was a veteran and I remember the tears on his cheeks when we left," she said. "I knew it was special."
As a result, the Harvest Festival at Sanborn Elementary School was born. Every year, Sanborn students brighten the days of local nursing home and assisted living residents at Thanksgiving by visiting and bringing small gifts.
"I've always believed that kids should learn about doing nice things for others," she said.
In 1982, town officials presented a Harvest Festival thank-you plaque to Guziejka – a picture of the plaque is included in the book.
Her career was all about singing and creating musicals for kids around the world, and she loved it. Even an improperly tiled music room for students in Turkey couldn't curb her music enthusiasm. That room caused severe hearing problems for her.
But this is one tough lady. Her husband, Eddie, has been disabled and unable to work for years. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in June. Their daughter, Susan, battled multiple sclerosis for years. She died in 2008.
The couple have two other children, Eric Guziejka of Texas and Amy, of Winchester.
"I just love to write and I know how important the arts are for kids. I've seen it, lived it," she said. "I thought sharing my story might be enjoyable for others."