Back to school: local grads returning to teach
When most students graduate from high school they are eager to walk through their school doors for the last time. The goal is often to get as far away from the alma mater as possible.
But in Truckee, quite a few of Tahoe-Truckee High School graduates have made their way back through Truckee schools’ front double doors – and they are back to stay for awhile.
Eleven teachers in Truckee elementary, middle and high schools were raised in this community and educated in local schools.
Four new teachers hired this year, two at Tahoe-Truckee High School and two at Sierra Mountain Middle School, grew up here, ventured elsewhere, but are back in familiar classrooms on a more permanent basis.
Stephanie Bacon, who teaches sixth grade language arts and social studies at SMMS, was born in Truckee, where her family has lived for approximately 30 years. She graduated from TTHS in 1994, and after receiving a bachelors in arts from Sonoma State, sought her teaching credential from Sierra Nevada College.
Now in her first year teaching, many of her colleagues are teachers she had growing up – even her mother, Lynn McKechnie, a SMMS science teacher.
“I had my mom as a teacher,” she said. “It’s actually great working with so many teachers I had because you’re already comfortable with that person. The hardest part is situations like when I want to call Bob Ferris (SMMS math and science teacher) ‘Mr. Ferris.'”
Bacon first realized her love for teaching when she attended Woodleaf, a week-long outdoor education program for sixth-graders, as a counselor from high school. It was there, too, that she met her high school sweetheart who is today her husband.
“It was an energizing experience to be with kids,” she said. “You certainly never get bored and it’s very challenging.”
Michelle Zapata (formerly LaBouef) graduated from TTHS in 1990. After student teaching at the high school the past two years, Zapata was hired as a chemistry and physical science teacher this year.
She went to preschool at Truckee Elementary School and her family still lives here as well.
“It says something about Truckee as well as the schools that so many teachers want to come back,” she said.
Her original goal was to become a doctor, and she was a premed major at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. Instead of going straight to medical school from college, she traveled to Central America, where she met her husband, to do nursing.
She moved back to Truckee, where worked around doctors and realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do after all.
Zapata went to Sierra Nevada College to obtain her teaching certificate.
“Teaching was always in the back of my mind I guess,” she said. “I love science, and to be honest, I wanted to be up her (in Truckee). To combine my love for the mountains and what I do as far as science and chemistry goes it was a natural fit.”
“Truckee High is different when I was here as a student, but I love this school,” she said.
Jason Estabrook, who teaches government, economics and global studies at TTHS, graduated from Truckee High in 1986 and received a baseball scholarship to the University of Alabama.
“My major changed about three times throughout college,” he said. “But the more I worked with youth, the more I wanted to feel a part of their every day lives.”
He graduated in 1995 with a degree in education and social studies, and was teaching for awhile on a Chocktaw Indian Reservation in Philadelphia, Ala.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “It’s a very hard life on the Indian reservation.”
Estabrook said it was exciting to come back to Truckee.
“I wanted to give back to the community and come back to Truckee,” he said. “I always kept in touch with (TTHS principal) Dennis LeBlanc and teachers here.”
He, too, grew up here. His father was the head football coach for Truckee High between 1989 and 1993. Estabrook is now head baseball coach and assistant football.
Neysa Williams, who moved to Truckee when she was eight and graduated from TTHS in 1991, is also teaching her first year at SMMS as an eighth grade science teacher.
“I didn’t figure out I wanted to be a teacher until my senior year in college (University of California, Santa Cruz),” Williams said. She had been frustrated with applying to graduate schools and heard about an alternate reading credential program in a Los Angeles school district. She taught in East LA for four years before returning to Truckee just more than a year ago.
“My husband and I didn’t want to stay in LA,” she said. Her mom still lives here and she has a 17-month-old son. “We would prefer to raise him here.”
At SMMS she has found that she is teaching students whose parents she’s had as teachers. She teaches in the same classroom she had in sixth grade.
“It’s strange to be back in it … it’s nice,” she said.
Seven other teachers who grew up in Truckee have been teaching in local schools for years now. At SMMS there is John Besio, Christine Smith, and Sue Mock; at TTHS is there’s Butch Smith; at Truckee Elementary there’s Debbie Gerdin and Tamara Kyser; and at Glenshire Elementary there’s Darin Veliquette.
SMMS PE teacher and athletic director John Besio’s grandparents moved to Truckee from Italy in 1905. His parents were born and raised in Truckee and so was he. His grandfather built the Truckee River Inn and he was born and raised in the house next door.
“We used to play Kick The Can in the intersection of Highway 267 and West River Street,” Besio said.
He graduated from TTHS in 1996 the same year he was president of his senior class and Athlete of the Year. He played varsity football, basketball and baseball all four years of high school.
“I knew I wanted to be involved with kids and sports,” he said.
He went to Sierra College for just over two years and graduated from UC Davis and recieved his credential in teaching. He spent a year in Florence, Italy before returning to Truckee.
“I knew I wanted to come back to ‘Wolverineville,'” he said.
“We still enjoy it here. It’s an outstanding community and you really see it when you’re involved with the schools and the sports,” he said.
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