On a sunny Friday morning, sixth-grade students at Holy Cross Academy were in the science lab discovering density. If you pour 10mL of rubbing alcohol into 10mL of water, will the alcohol sit on top, or sink to the bottom?
As the groups of students discussed their hypotheses and began to carefully measure and weigh their liquids, middle school science teacher Cyndi Hasten walked among them, stopping to listen carefully to their progress. “Good discovery,” she encouraged several students.
At the back table, Claire Wolf bent close to her graduated cylinder to observe. The alcohol floated on top of the water, and “that means it’s less dense,” she said.
Claire enjoys the frequent lab experiments Hasten leads. “It’s fun to be in the lab and be active,” she said. “And Mrs. Hasten is a great science teacher. She’s straightforward and doesn’t waste time.”
This year marks Hasten’s 50th year in Catholic education, where she’s served several schools as a middle school teacher and principal. She’s tried to retire on two occasions, she admits, but ended up back in school shortly after.
“I always tell the kids, ‘God calls us through what we love,’” she said. “He wants us to be happy in what we’re good at. And I know I made the right choices for myself.”
Hasten grew up in St. Louis, attending St. Martin of Tours School and Notre Dame High School, and credits her lay and religious teachers with helping her grow in faith and decide to pursue her own teaching career.
Hasten’s first classrooms were in the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, where she taught seventh and eighth grade math, science, religion, computers, language arts and physical education for 18 years. In 1992, she and her family moved to St. Louis, where she taught at Our Lady of Sorrows School in south St. Louis for three years before taking her first principalship at Holy Redeemer School in Webster Groves.
In 2001, she started a 14-year run as principal of Assumption School in south St. Louis County. Then, she tried to retire for the first time, but decided instead to take a part-time teachers assistant job at Holy Cross Academy. Just a few months into the year, she was asked to take over as principal at St. Louis the King School at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, where she remained until the school’s closure in 2017.
Then, she tried retirement again — for all of 24 hours. “My family jokes, ‘You retired for one day!’ and then I got the call from (Holy Cross Academy),” she said. “And it was right up my alley.”
She returned to Holy Cross Academy to teach middle school science, part time — and she doesn’t try to predict her final retirement date anymore. “I take it a year at a time,” she said. “I say as long as I’m healthy, and I get the feedback that I’m effective, I’ll keep taking it a year at a time.”
Being able to connect with students in faith has always been important to Hasten, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Valley Park. She recalled a time at St. Louis the King where a young student found out that Hasten’s husband had died. “She said, ‘next time I go to church, I’ll pray for you.’ And another one pipes up, ‘You don’t have to go to church to pray. You can pray anywhere! You can pray in your room, you can pray in the bathroom,’” she said. “These kids are so in touch with God.”
Throughout her career, whenever her family was going through a financially difficult time, the thought of switching to a higher-paying public school job crossed her mind. “But every time I thought about going into public schools for more money, there was some way my family got the extra money,” like a surprise dividend from an insurance policy or an unexpected raise, she said. “I think God wanted me there.”
As both a teacher and principal, building connections with students and families has been a great source of joy for Hasten. In the classroom, “the joy comes from the (students’) ‘aha’ moments,” she said. “As a principal, the fun of the job is working with whole families and watching children grow from kindergarten all the way through.”
As a principal, “you’re going through their life crises with them — the parents will tell you about their illnesses, their struggles, and you get a different kind of connection,” she said.
Teaching science has always led to a greater sense of wonder and awe of God’s design for the universe, she said. A few years ago, she helped pilot a new sixth-grade science curriculum, which looked at how all the systems of the earth work together and the impact humans have on it, pulling in Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si.’”
“Teaching that has really given me a deep appreciation for the planet. I’ve always appreciated it, of course, but something really deep happened inside me by teaching that,” she said.
The more students learn about science and math, the more they should learn about God, Hasten said. “Galileo said mathematics is the language with which God wrote the universe. I hope I spread that out in the curriculum, so (my students) walk away not just with the knowledge that force equals mass times acceleration, but an appreciation for the fact that it’s all based on God’s creation.”