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Gus Peterson: From Businessman to Social Studies Teacher

Get to know one of Branford's leading educators, Gustaf H. Peterson, Jr., who will be inducted to the Branford Education Hall of Fame this year.

In late January, the community spoke and seven worthy individuals were selected to be inducted to the 2012 Branford Education Hall of Fame. The induction dinner will be held at Woodwinds Restaurant in Branford on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m.; event details to come. 

Starting this week, we'll be introducing you to the inductees. If an educator featured has touched your life, please don't hesitate to let the community know it the comments! 

In addition to honoring inductees through this column in the coming weeks, Patch would like to recognize those being inducted posthumously: Zenia Smolenski, teacher and principal at the former Harbor Street School; Nancy Knowlton, education activist; and Edward Hippolitus, Branford High School teacher and Career Education Coordinator.

Meet Gustaf H. Peterson

Gustaf H. Peterson, Jr. is an eighth-grade social studies teacher and department leader at Francis Walsh Intermediate School. He first came to WIS as an intern and later as a student-teacher.

Peterson confesses that when he moved is young family to Branford in 1999, he didn't yet have a job in the local school system – it just worked out that way. 

Though he's revered now as a great educator by his peers, students and the community, Peterson didn't start in the field. He graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Economics in 1980 and worked in sales in the wood pulp, paper and recycled paper industry until 1997.  Deciding to change career paths the same year he left the paper industry, Peterson enrolled in Quinnipiac University where he earned his master's degree in teaching. 

Get to know "Gus" and why he's one of Branford's top educators of 2012:

Branford Patch: Who was the most influential educator in your life and tell readers one anecdote about him or her?
Gustaf H. Peterson: The most influential educator in my life would be Judith DeCaprio.  I did my student teaching in her 8th grade classroom here at WIS.  Other than my family, Judy DeCaprio is one of the most influential people in my adult life because she modeled how to be an excellent teacher every day.  I had the opportunity to spend ten weeks with someone who loved the job, got on the same level as the students, and was never afraid to keep raising the bar of academic expectations higher and higher.

Branford Patch: In your opinion, what has been a challenge about educating others?
Gustaf H. Peterson: 
The biggest challenge for me in terms of educating others is that students learn differently today than when I started teaching.  You have to keep adapting to their changing learning styles or else you will become stagnant and irrelevant.  You don't want to do that in 8th grade!

Branford Patch: Do you consider yourself a natural educator or is it something you trained yourself to do?
Gustaf H. Peterson: I actually think that I am a natural educator.  It's what I always wanted to do.  I just got sidetracked in business for 17 years.  But I actually believe that my background has been an asset to me as a teacher.

Branford Patch: What’s your favorite childhood book?
Gustaf H. Peterson: 
Favorite childhood book?  It's pretty tough to out do "Goodnight Moon" but "Little Bear" is up there too.

Branford Patch: Name one thing you like best about Branford’s education system?
Gustaf H. Peterson:
Rather than isolating one thing that I like about Branford's education system I think that I would prefer to tell you that my wife and I and our three children moved here in 1999 because my oldest was about to enter 5th grade and I wanted her to go to school here because it was and is still an amazing school.  We made this move BEFORE I was hired. 

Eric Nemarich February 18, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Mr. P tolerated me for not one but two consecutive years. That's a feat in itself. Somehow he also managed to be the best teacher I've ever had. I commend you, sir!
Charles Ahern February 18, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Gus Peterson is the kind of teacher that every student wants. His classes are never boring and always have a fun, happy atmosphere to them. More importantly, however, you actually learned through him. Many teachers could be the cool, fun teacher, but not teach you anything because all they want is to be liked. Others can be super strict and mean, but you learn a ton of information. Mr. P is a teacher that combine these two aspects to become the best educator that I have ever had. As I am sure my fellow classmates would agree, Mr. Peterson tought us in a way that changed the way we look at school. Before Mr. Peterson's class, I hated history. Now, because of one year with him, the only path I can see myself taking and enjoying is that of a history major in college. Personally, I have maintained a friendship with Mr. Peterson through BHS Model Congress and also outside of school events. Mr. P is the go to guy for help academically or even to share a good laugh. Mr. P is just one of those people who is there to help, and will never think twice about it. He is also very good at trivia, probably owing to his habitual nightly viewing of Jeopardy. And so, I will end my rant with a quote, "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." Thank you, Mr. Peterson, for being a "great" teacher.
Sibte Zaidi February 18, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Mr. Peterson was the Best Teacher i ever had. I'm glad he is going into the Branford Education Hall of Fame.
Dalton Erickson February 19, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Great Teacher! I have had wonderful experiences with Gus!
Aaron Radulski March 03, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Mr. Peterson has been a very influential person in my life. He encouraged me to work harder and apply myself more than anybody ever has. I was always very compelled in his class to do my best and try to be the best. Because of him, I found a love for history and politics that I will probably maintain my entire life. Not only was he good at getting his students to work, but he guided them through the material like no other teacher I've had. But being an educator isn't Gus's only role in my life. He's also a role model and a good friend to me. A few months ago, two other students and I went to visit him and stayed for an hour and a half chatting, and I never found myself bored. Mr. Peterson was a great educator and mentor to all of his students, and he definitely deserves this. Congratulations!

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