By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m a townie. I was born and raised in Ann Arbor with two sisters, a brother, a dog and kind loving parents who taught me the value of compassion and being kind. They also blasted Bob Ufer on the radio during every Michigan football game in the fall. I can still remember my first pair of Adidas and my Michigan sweatshirt, which became my uniform during neighborhood games, where trees were goals and plays were drawn on the big kid’s hand. This was the start of my love of sports and school spirit.
What inspired you to be a teacher?
In high school, I was on the field hockey, volleyball, and track teams. My coaches were teachers and they taught us the importance of life skills such as teamwork, resilience, and making a positive difference. I’ll never forget my volleyball coach (who was also my biology teacher) who had a long dark beard and always wore a tweed jacket in games. When adversity was staring us in the face, he never yelled. Rather he would pull us together in a huddle, so close we could feel the heartbeats of our teammates. It was then he would look us each in the eye, not saying a word, just giving us courage, strength, and the belief that anything was possible. Sometimes it was the driving force we needed to win, but always—even through the disappointment of a loss—we knew we were stronger with lessons learned and teammates that would last a lifetime.
These are defining moments. I was blessed to have teachers who cared about the human spirit and how to make these days count. I hope in some small way, I too can make a difference and give hope and empower students/athletes to believe in their worth and ability to have courage, strength, and meaning.
What makes teaching at Pioneer special?
I’m thankful every day to be part of such an incredible school with a strong tradition of excellence and pride. Obviously, we can turn to all of our accomplishments through music, academics, the arts, sports, etc. We’re right across from the Big House and everything this town has to offer, but I love the day-to-day at Pioneer. I’m inspired by our students giving their best regardless of circumstances; the diversity of our student population; the laughter, smiles, high fives in the hallway; the open and optimistic mindset of our students. I’m humbled by our staff and the talents they utilize daily; the dedication and commitment; the willingness to stay positive in the not-so-glamorous parts of the daily grind. I know we need to continuously learn and grow, but I’m thankful we have a staff that believes in supporting our students and that we seek to hold ourselves accountable to make sure everyone belongs and has opportunity.
Describe your role as a teacher consultant at Pioneer?
Right after college, I felt way too young and inexperienced to be a high school teacher, so I worked in foster care for a year, while coaching at Pioneer. My job was to help with the transition when kids went back home and were reunified with biological families. I worked with schools to make sure the youngster was integrating back to their school. This became a passion…to work with students who had struggles and needed support to be successful. I needed a master’s degree in special education to become a teacher consultant, so once I completed that process, I started my career in Ypsilanti and then when a position at Pioneer opened up in the special education department, Lorin Cartwright (retired Pioneer AD) contacted me and the rest is history.
As special educators at Pioneer, we try to work as a team to provide a continuum of supports and services to empower students to be successful. We facilitate Individual Education Plans and then follow up with students and staff to assess supports and progress. Every day is different…conducting IEP’s, providing academic supports, motivating and goal setting, testing students, supporting general ed classrooms, meeting with students, parents, counselors to problem solve, working with admin, teachers, or ancillary staff. Never a dull moment!
What’s it like to coach at Pioneer?
We have a great field hockey tradition at Pioneer! We have a culture of passion for hard work, team, and love of the game. The traditions established and the support of our alum base is heartwarming and truly special. We had our 40th reunion for field hockey this fall. We had more than 50 alum from all over the country, all three head coaches, many assistant coaches, and all decades were well represented. We had an alumni game under the lights, coached by current athletes, refereed by current athletes, and cheerleaders were current athletes. Many former PFH athletes have played in college, so there was no lack of skill or competitive spirit. The score was 3-2—Pioneer. .
This sense of family and respect for being part of something bigger than yourself is important for young women. They know they are valued and have 40 years’ worth of teammates to count on at any given moment.
It’s important to thank our athletic director, department, staff, coaches from other teams for always supporting our program and believing in us…win, lose, or draw. It’s unique to have this many athletes, teams, and coaches to have this type of pride and respect for each other.
How do you recharge and spend your summer?
I love the outdoors and being active. We have a family cabin in Canada (my grandparents were Canadian), so I get to spend some time watching sunsets on the beach of beautiful Lake Huron, often with a fire and some relatives making good fun of Americans. My dog is usually close by looking for s’ mores.
I’m part of a running team. Our big event is “Dances with Dirt,” which includes 60 miles of relay running through swamps, streams, trails, poison ivy. Oh, and then there’s goat yoga. Love that. And later this winter, back to the mountains in Vermont with my person and dear friends to hike Mount Mansfield. We’ll hike all day to the top where we’ll share some gorp, cheer, and breathe in the beauty of friendship and this natural treasure.
As my Irish grandmother used to say: “One life whether you laugh or cry.” Although there are tears along this journey, I do try to laugh a bit more.