Science teacher Sanderson departs, leaves environmental impact


Maddie Shaw

Michael Sanderson stands with his environmentally-decorated door that was completed during an Earth and Sustainability Club meeting. Sanderson is the teacher sponsor of the club.

Maddie Shaw

AP Environmental Science and Biology teacher Michael Sanderson is departing Midtown on Jan. 6, 2023, but not without leaving a mark on the school’s environmental and sustainability efforts. 

With master’s degrees in both environmental microbiology and teaching, Sanderson applied his studies in the real world by working in Kenya doing water sanitation and hygiene research.

“It was an organization called Innovations for Poverty Action,” Sanderson said. “I thought it would bring a unique experience, and it was phenomenal. You’re working with people from different cultures, and you’re learning how to connect with people and build relationships. I found that very rewarding. We had a direct impact on the health of rural communities in western Kenya. And, more specifically, I know that the information pulled from those studies is being used by government officials to help understand how to build infrastructure and sustainable systems to provide clean water and sanitation to people.”

Later, Sanderson used his studies in bioremediation, or the use of organisms that can eliminate environmental pollutants, to aid in his participation in cleaning up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The BP oil spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, occurred in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing the biggest oil spill ever recorded in marine oil drilling operations.

“I think my environmental passions were triggered by the BP oil spill,” Sanderson said. “When that happened, I was in undergraduate school, and the actual event was devastating. It was an environmental event that just didn’t impact the environment, it impacted economies and people’s health. When such a preventable travesty occurred, it was really eye-opening in that there are things out there that are happening, and there are people who, maybe not intentionally, but are a bit careless about it and might need to know more.”

Sanderson came to Midtown in 2020 while classes were virtual due to Covid-19. Language arts teacher Alex Wallace served as Sanderson’s teacher mentor and noticed Sanderson’s potential early on.

“Even with Covid, I could tell that he was going to be hands-on and that he was going to be very passionate with his students,” Wallace said. “He’s very inquisitive, and he’s definitely students-first. He’s soft-spoken, but he makes loud noises in the classroom.”

Special education teacher Blair Barksdale has worked with Sanderson as a co-teacher for various science classes and has seen firsthand how Sanderson shows his environmental passions to his students.

“He knows his stuff because [studying the environment] was his career,” Barksdale said. “I think his passions, his work ethic and the experiments his students do relay how passionate he is about environmental science.”

By using sustainable practices himself, Sanderson said he tries to influence his students to be more environmentally conscious.

“I like to lead by example,” Sanderson said. “I either bike or run to work every day. I try to eat sustainably, but I also just try to be open. I think oftentimes when we’re asking questions, we’re reflecting and thinking. When we do that, we’re trying to improve our own selves and trying to improve our own day-to-day activities. I think being responsive and providing a space where kids can reflect on their own actions is going to help them be more sustainable.”

Sanderson furthered his outreach at Midtown by becoming the teacher sponsor of the Earth and Sustainability Club. Under his sponsorship, the recycling program has been revamped to create a more sustainable campus.

“He’s really allowed the Earth and Sustainability Club to grow and become a staple,”  junior and vice president of the club Sadie Kyle said. “Especially with the new recycling program, he did a lot of work with that. I think that’s always going to be attributed to him even after he leaves.”

Senior Elena D’Agostino, a student in Sanderson’s AP Environmental Science class and a member of the Earth and Sustainability Club, said she enjoys how Sanderson integrates his lessons with his own experiences.

“I think Mr. Sanderson involves a lot of current environmental issues in his curriculum, and I think this is something I haven’t seen in teachers before,” D’Agostino said. “Normally, they just stick to the curriculum, but he adds in some sustainable advice and knowledge.”

From a faculty perspective, Sanderson has formed many relationships in his short time at Midtown, Wallace says.

“He has developed really great relationships with the science teachers and with all the new teachers that came in with him,” Wallace said. “He’s a leader, he’s a visionary and he is one that is passionate about what he does.”

Sanderson said he has appreciated his time at Midtown across faculty and students.

“I’ve loved my time at Midtown,” Sanderson said. “What I enjoy about working here is the staff was incredibly welcoming. My first year here was Covid year, and I was on Zoom. I really appreciate how much energy and effort everyone gave to make sure I felt welcomed. I really appreciate the relationships I have built here. Also, I’ve found the students here are very receptive to some of the ideas that I’ve had. They’ve worked to see the big picture and not just the shortsighted grade.”

Wallace believes that Sanderson has made an impact on Midtown and won’t be soon forgotten.

“[Midtown students] are going to lose a teacher who is passionate about his craft, who is hands-on, who takes on an initiative that is for the betterment of the world, like the recycling program,” Wallace said. “He’s going to leave a gap there. He may be losing us, but he’s always going to be a part of our family.”