Blast from the past: Many young teachers return to their alma maters

11/26/2013 12:00 AM

11/26/2013 7:45 PM

Barry Crilley spends a lot of time in the principal’s office these days.

The space used to be a place he was happy to avoid, but it’s taken on a new meaning now.

The former Park Hill South High School student is now a special education teacher in the same building where he once attended class, and he often stops into the principal’s office to collaborate with other teachers and administrators about the best way to reach a whole new generation of students.

“I had always associated principals with punishment and so being able to work with them as instructional leaders was really neat and surreal,” Crilley says.

He is one of a number of teachers across the Northland who have assumed professional roles in the schools they once attended — trading letter jackets, pom poms and backpacks for identification cards and test papers.

For many, the transition has meant some odd experiences working alongside teachers they once saw as authority figures or stepping into areas of the school that used to be out of bounds. But it’s also given them a deeper appreciation and love for their alma mater turned workplace.

“I think first of all it builds for me more pride about my work here at South because I was a student here, so I feel more strongly that I want to see South students succeed and I want South to be one of the best places for students to come through and have a great experience,” Crilley says.

He was part of the first graduating class at Park Hill South High School in 2000 and his athletic team photos still hang on the building walls, much to the enjoyment of many of his students.

As a teenager, he had a typical experience at the school, spending time outside the classroom hanging out near the grand staircase with his buddies or playing football, running track and lifting weights.

“We had a lot of school spirit at that time,” he said.

He knew he wanted to be a teacher someday but never imagined he’d one day return to Park Hill South.

Initially, Crilley thought he’d specialize in history or physical education but after taking a teaching assistant job in one of the special education buildings, he found his true calling.

He earned his master’s degree and special education certification, then found his way back to Park Hill South.

These days Crilley prepares students with special education needs for the transition from high school into the real world by teaching them job skills, helping with job applications and monitoring students on the job.

“I really love it here. It’s a great place to work. The people are great,” Crilley said. “I have so many positive memories from here that I don’t see myself leaving or I can’t see myself happier anywhere else anyway.”

Prom night revisited

Nearly a decade ago, Ashley Loveall meticulously planned her high school’s prom from its location at the pavilion at Arrowhead Stadium down to the photos of old Hollywood couples that decorated the room. Now she’s at it again.

The first-year English language arts teacher at North Kansas City High School has found herself once again serving on the school’s prom committee — although this time as the faculty adviser. The experience has been a bit different than when she was a junior in high school herself.

“When I was in the prom committee it didn’t seem as daunting when I was a student,” Loveall says. “It seemed like, ‘Oh yeah, this was no big deal,’ but that was because we weren’t doing a lot of the work. (The faculty adviser) was doing a lot of the behind the scenes things we didn’t really know about.”

But despite the work involved, Loveall, who graduated in 2005, said recapturing a spot on the prom committee has been a lot of fun.

She admits that finding herself back at the high school this year has been a little weird, and she even occasionally gets mistaken for a student. But her return has been a source of comfort.

“The strangest part of it probably was seeing the teachers who had taught me and now they are telling me to call them by their first name and it just feels awkward,” she said. “That was definitely very, very strange at first but it’s getting more and more comfortable.”

Loveall, who was extremely involved during her own high school career as a cheerleader, tennis player, class representative and International Baccalaureate student, said being a young teacher and former student helps her identify with the teens she teaches and understand what they may be going through.

“I can relate and I try to take it easy on them and understand where they are coming from,” she said.

From player to coach

Matt Owen understands where his students are coming from too — both in the classroom and on the baseball field.

The American history and American government teacher, who graduated from Liberty High School in 2000, connects daily with students both in the classroom and on the field, where he’s an assistant baseball coach.

His time on the field coaching the school’s freshman players is reminiscent of his own years as a Liberty High School baseball player.

After high school Owen went on to play a few years in college before turning to coaching.

“I was lucky enough to come back and help here at Liberty in the program before I even graduated from college and did some volunteer stuff,” he said.

Now that he’s back at the high school, he says there are a few differences from his days as a student. These days the building is a lot more crowded than he remembers it and as a teacher he can now go to parts of the building he never knew existed before. But overall, Owen says the building hasn’t changed much.

His perspective, however, has.

“It’s a different perspective walking through the halls as an adult and a teacher,” he said, adding that he is more perceptive now to what’s going in the lives of both the students and other teachers.

In the classroom, the role of technology has also evolved. It’s regularly used in daily interactive lessons and all the students at Liberty High School now have their own laptops.

“That wasn’t even thought of 15 years ago,” he said, adding that then the internet was just in its infancy.

Language lessons

Alyssa Corkill fell in love with the Spanish language as a student at Winnetonka High School, and now she’s helping others do the same.

“I love how it connects people and connects the world,” Corkill said of the language.

The second-year Spanish teacher graduated in 2007 and landed back at her former high school by chance, but she said the familiar environment there helped ease her transition into teaching. One familiar face was especially reassuring — her younger sister, who was a student at the high school during Corkill’s first year teaching.

“She was up for homecoming queen, so I got to be here for all of that kind of stuff,” she said. “That was fun.”

Corkill said her young age and her previous tie to the high school made it easier to connect with her students, but has also made it a bit of a challenge to establish herself as an authority figure — especially with some of her sisters friends.

“You just treat them like everybody else in the class and they just automatically see that it’s a different setting,” she said.

But her previous experience at Winnetonka has also worked to her advantage.

“They know I can relate to them and sometimes I have to remind them of that, like I know what it’s like to have to go from one side of the building to the other in five minutes and go to your locker. I know what that’s like and it can be done,” she said.

Elementary pursuits

While some teachers have returned to their high school alma maters, Jessica Morgan is retracing her steps even further — all the way back to kindergarten.

The reading intervention specialist is working at Southeast Elementary in the Park Hill School District, the same school where she once attended kindergarten. Due to boundary changes, she spent the remainder of her elementary years at another school but she said she still has specific memories of her time as a kindergartener, particularly how big the school seemed and the crazy earrings her art teacher always wore.

“It makes me think too what will my kids remember about elementary school if those are the things I’ve latched onto,” she said.

When her students find out the now 26-year-old once attended school there herself they are baffled.

“There have been a few times where its come up and it absolutely blows their mind,” she said.

Teaching in the Park Hill School District isn’t a coincidence for Morgan. She said she did everything she could to land back there after receiving her teaching degree from Park University — whether it was volunteering in district schools once she got out of her college classes or arriving a month or two early for her student teaching assignment to volunteer.

“I thought if I could just be there and soak everything in, it would be beneficial for me learning-wise but would also be beneficial for me as far as the hiring process, and it worked,” she said.

Morgan’s family has a long history with the district. Her father worked for the Park Hill School District as a math teacher, high school principal and school board member. Being a part of the Park Hill School District community is a tradition Morgan is happy to continue.

“It’s been a wonderful fit and I think just being immersed in it has made me so invested,” she said.


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