LCHS: Shines the Spotlight on Dr. Mark Ewoldsen

If you are looking for Dr. E, he makes himself easy to find. In between periods, he can always be found standing in the open doorway of his classroom greeting incoming students with a welcoming handshake and offering big smiles to those passing by.  

Outgoing, friendly, and a tad unpredictable, he prides himself on being genuine and available to his students, “I tell them at the beginning of the year, ‘I want to treat you the way I want my kids to be treated.’” From impersonations of The Swedish Chef to self-defense moves to shaving his head for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, he is famous for fearlessly going the extra mile for students. Recently, LCHS staff held their own head-shaving event to raise money for children’s cancer research. “I did the St. Baldrick event because students asked me to do it,” said Dr. E, “for more interaction with them.”

For Dr. E, being a teacher means more than lectures, labs, and evaluations, “There has to be an emotional connection with the students. As a teacher, I get them to care by caring for them.” Seeing his students as fellow human beings also traveling through life allows him to relate to them in a personal way. He isn't afraid to acknowledge life's hardships as well as its joys or to discuss difficult subjects. He is also more than willing to help a co-worker. Whether he's helping them with technology or lending a listening ear, he notices right away when someone is having a tough day and offers encouragement. To him, caring for the people he sees everyday is a priority.

Much of the reason for infusing his teaching with humor and emotional connection stems from his own vivid memories of what it’s like to be a kid. He grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, with four brothers.

(Fun Fact: Last year's April Fool's edition of The Spartan reported that Dr. E is related to Dr. Dre,  which isn't so much of an April Fool's joke after all, since one of his brothers is Dr. David Ross Ewoldsen, a professor at Michigan State University.)

Growing up, Dr. E was actively involved in Boy Scouts, an experience that caused him to spend much of his time outdoors and majorly influenced his keen interest in the environment.

In high school, he excelled at math, science, and athletics. While he briefly played football, his main sport was wrestling. He competed at both the high school and college levels.  Afterward, he also won contests as a bodybuilder, and he possesses a black belt in Judo.

Since high school, his favorite band has been the Eagles. His favorite song by them is “Hotel California.” Conversely, his least favorite song is Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zepplin. Turns out, it was the number one break-up song at his high school. He remembers, “It was the slow-dance, break-up song. If you saw a couple go on the dance floor to that song, you knew they were breaking up. No one wanted to dance to that song.”

His favorite movie is Young Frankenstein, “The first time I saw it, I laughed nonstop. I was twenty-one, a senior in college, and I took a date to the movie. When the credits came up, I again started laughing. It was my last date with her. I laughed too much.”

His interest in technology was sparked in 1974. During his senior year of high school, he helped the office staff with their computer and occasionally explored what else it could do. “I was a T.A. for the counselors. They had a computer the size of this desk [science lab table] and all it did was attendance. I had a teacher teaching square roots. I had to program the computer so it could find square roots of numbers. That computer took a half hour to figure out square roots between 1 and 100 and another half hour to print.”

However, within a few years, computers changed rapidly. “I used computers left and right to analyze data in grad school.” Now, they are a part of everyday home life and work life. As a technology liaison at LCHS, Dr. E is always prepared to share his technology expertise to other teachers and staff. All they have to do is ask.

In college, his passion for science caused him to seriously consider majoring in pre-med, but after a long discussion with his uncle, a doctor who warned him that medicine is a life-consuming career and advised him to seriously consider what he wanted most, he decided instead to earn his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry and seek a career that would allow him to work more with others. Later, he received his Ph.D in biochemistry and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in California. He did not particularly enjoy it, so when a friend and history teacher from Glendale High School recommended that Dr. E teach, right away, he took the steps necessary to begin.

Dr. E knew exactly where he wanted to work, "I drove up here to LCHS and asked Principal Davis for a job.” He was initially hired to teach math and coach wrestling. “I knew I wanted to teach here because as soon as I left his office I found a $10 bill in the bushes." It must have been a positive sign. LCHS hasn't been just his first teaching job; it's been his professional home, "I’ve been at LCHS for twenty-six years."

Like any new teacher, he took a couple of weeks to get into the groove of things here. "I had no classroom management skills. I couldn’t get them to do anything. So finally, in the middle of class, I knelt down and did the Swedish Chef--threw everything in the air! And they went nuts and said, 'Do it again! Do it again!' I said, 'Let’s do the lesson and you do your homework, and then I’ll do it again.' By 2nd period, everyone had heard about it, and every class wanted to see it." After that, he learned quickly. He was even incorporating time for student collaboration in his classes long before Common Core made it the norm. “After every couple slides, I’ll stop and tell them to talk at their tables. The best form of learning is when they are teaching each other.”

They also learn from several other species occupying his classroom, including a bearded dragon from Australia named Godzilla, a legless lizard named Lenny, a tortoise from Russia, some mice, and some Madagascar hissing cockroaches.“My class is not the cleanest classroom in the world, but it’s alive.” Many of the class pets have been donated from pet stores, parents, and other teachers. “The kids observe them. For example, when you pet the bearded dragon, you start head to tail because it’s smooth. The other way, it’s rough, which makes it easier for them to run away, because predators can’t latch on.”

Dr. E has taught all the science courses, with the exception of geology. He actually established the AP Environmental Science class in 2000. From 2010 to 2014, he became the College Board advisor and helped write the AP Environmental Science test. Now, he teaches AP Biology and AP Environmental Science classes each year. Being the biology teacher, one of his responsibilities is teaching a unit about sex education. “I care enough about the students to prepare them for all kinds of events in life. My viewpoint is that I want them to know all the repercussions and problems that can happen.” Impressing health, safety, and personal responsibility is the top priority. As one of his former students and current colleagues, Jamie Lewsadder shared, "One thing I know about him from first hand experience is that he is very honest about the world in general. Whether he's discussing diseases or asking how people are doing in their personal lives, he's committed to understanding the whole student, and he is very attuned to when things aren't right. As his student, he tried hard to get us to care about the lesson."

Students do appreciate his candor and value his expertise. Every year, he gets asked to write many letters of recommendation, “I start with anywhere between twenty-five to eighty a year, for college admissions, scholarships, Eagle Scouts.” Beyond high school, it is not uncommon for former students to contact him with questions about graduate school, working in health and science fields, or even life advice.

For anyone dealing with struggles, he advises, “Talk. Talk to your friends. Talk to people who have gone through it. Talk to me.” He remembers a teacher who took the time to listen to him and made a significant impact on his own life. “When I was in 7th or 8th grade, a teacher told me, ‘Mark, you are very intelligent, but you are not smart. You are making decisions that will not make you happy twenty years from now.’” Ever since then, he has kept those words in mind and hopes that his students today will make choices that they can be proud of twenty years from now.

After twenty-six years, he has taught thousands of La Canada students. According to his count, at least twelve former students have returned as educators to work at LCUSD. Currently, five of them now work along side him—Jamie Lewsadder, Cynthia Calm, Gavin Williams, Sarah Beattie, and Lindsay Staley. She shared, "One day after school, I was having a teenage-moment, where I must have been teary eyed, while walking down the hall.  Dr. E didn't know me well--I was simply one of his students, but he stopped walking when he saw me, turned around, came back to me, and asked if I was ok.  Asked if he could help.  Told me I didn't have to talk about anything, but I should know that he was always there if I needed to laugh.  I've never forgotten that, and that was over twenty years ago.  He still makes me laugh, he still notices people in the hall, and he still cares about his students.” 

That dedication also led him to serve as summer school principal at LCHS for the past ten summers. It is one of his favorite jobs to do because, “I get to go and observe teachers. One of the best things we could do for our teachers is give them the a few days to observe each other teacher. I see great lessons I would love to use and some I would never use. It would help them teach better."

At one time, he pursued becoming a full-time principal. As his career grew, his family also grew. He and his wife adopted their first child in 2001 and their second a few years later. Being an administrator requires logging many extra hours that he decided needed to be invested in his young family. He has no regrets about the decision,“My life has worked out beautifully with teaching and with College Board.” Now, that his children are older, he joked, “‘My wife and I, we’re a taxicab.” Looking forward, he imagines he has the teary scene from Toy Story 3 in his future, “When the boy is driving away to college. That will be my kid, reaching adulthood.”

With so much experience and exuberance, Dr. E provides a unique academic experience within his classes. Innovative experiments and environmental field trips are just the tip of the iceberg. As described by his friend and fellow science teacher Tom Traeger, “Dr. E is great because he cares deeply about each student and wants them to be better citizens who are literate in scientific principles and thought. He is a true friend and colleague who is always there for me, other staff, and his students.”