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Sat, Feb. 22

Longest serving PUSD teacher relishes first day of school

Mile High Middle School industrial arts/applied technology teacher Terry Pemberton, starting his 49th year in the district, with administrative assistant Tracy Courson in the school office. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Mile High Middle School industrial arts/applied technology teacher Terry Pemberton, starting his 49th year in the district, with administrative assistant Tracy Courson in the school office. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Long before school buses pulled into the Mile High Middle School parking lot in Prescott, industrial arts/applied technology teacher Terry Pemberton was on the campus, readying for his first day.

No stranger to the chaotic delight that comes with students’ return to their regular school schedule, Pemberton joked Thursday morning he is way more confident than he was his first year — 49 years ago.

“I love what I do. Everybody here makes a difference, said Pemberton who with his wife of a half century, Sandy, has two adult children and four grandchildren.

Pemberton, 71, known for his jovial nature, engaging lessons and now white handlebar mustache, is the most veteran teacher in the district — beginning his career in Prescott in 1971 teaching what was then known as “shop class” to middle school students between sixth and ninth grades.

At teacher opening ceremonies, Pemberton earned cheers and applause for his continued desire to be in a classroom rather than retired on a beach somewhere.

He jokes that his classes today include grandchildren of some of the more than 20,000 students he has taught how to build, weld and design all kinds of stuff. His courses enable students to explore — with hands-on experience — science, math, technology and engineering with assorted projects. Pemberton, too, has taught ham radio and video-production courses.

A craftsman, Pemberton not only taught for 39 years at Granite Mountain School when it housed sixth through eighth grades but helped build the school adjacent to Abia Judd Elementary on Williamson Valley Road.

A master teacher twice honored as a Yavapai County Teacher of the Year finalist, Pemberton is often called on to assist his younger colleagues. He was mentoring on this first day.

As for his own exploratory, first-semester industrial art classes, which will also include some video production, and a second semester course in welding, Pemberton said he feels privileged to interact with some 400 to 500 of the school’s students throughout the course of the year.

“I come an hour early every day and stay a couple hours late,” said Pemberton, who intends to teach at least through his 50th year in education as long as his health and patient wife allow. “I’m just a guy who loves to m come to work every day.”


Across the district at Taylor Hicks, Aubrey Wilson emitted positive energy as she made her way through the halls on what was her first day as a new-to-the-district special education teacher for second through fourth grades.

“It’s beautiful. This whole day is beautiful,” the badge-wearing Wilson declared.

Even more so for the seven-year teaching veteran, because Taylor Hicks is where she went to elementary school.

Wilson said she is delighted to be able to now work in the district where she was educated.

“It’s just so wonderful to be back, she said.

Before the 8:10 a.m. bell signaled the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, Taylor Hicks Principal Kelsey Secor and the rest of the staff arranged themselves as a welcoming committee for their new and returning students. This year, the school offers not only a satellite classroom for the Discovery Gardens preschool program, but also a toddler room for 2- and 3-year-olds.

Within a few minutes after buses departed, and parents were on their way, the school was in learning mode.

“You’re all Bobcats! You’re going to have the best day,” Secor said to a group of 20 or so kindergarteners in Shelley Soifer’s class.

Prior to entering her class, Soifer posed with daughter, Leah, who is entering third grade.

With her students all seated on the floor, Soifer launched their day with the daily “business” — attendance — followed with greeting each child with a handshake, and hugs for any children who so desired. She then followed with a time of sharing “good things” with each other.

Then it was story time.

Student Sabrina Harmon, wearing a polka-dot bow in her blonde hair and a red-and-white striped dress, was all smiles as Soifer offered directions and gently prodded students into their new daily routine.

Sabrina articulated what many of her kindergarten peers, and even some high schoolers, were likely feeling this first day.

“I’m a little nervous,” she said in a whisper.

Taylor Hicks Parent-Teacher Association President Hilary Horton can appreciate Sabrina’s apprehension — but is confident she and every other child will come to love this school. Horton has a fourth-grader, Mia, at the school; her oldest, Audrey, is at Mile High Middle School and youngest, Kane, will attend next year.

“This is our second home,” Horton concluded.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci

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