Back to school: Seven new teachers bring different passions, experiences to Grand Canyon School
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — When Grand Canyon School begins Aug. 5, seven new teachers will be in the hallways and classrooms greeting students and settling in for a year of teaching on the South Rim.
For some, it’s their first teaching gig. For others, it’s another new experience teaching in one of the country’s most unique districts.
Catheryn Redmon: physical education, consumer chemistry, earth science, girls basketball
Originally from Dallas, Texas, Cathryn Redmon’s education and experience is a variety basket of different skills. She earned a degree in animal science intending to be a veterinarian, although she has taken quite a different path since then.
Prior to coming to Grand Canyon, Redmon said she traveled a lot and has worked in different fields, including habitat management, a tree service, even semi-professional basketball in Spain. After ending up in Arizona with her significant other and working at the national park, Redmon said they decided the school was somewhere they could have an impact.
Redmon will be teaching high school physical education, along with two strength and conditioning classes. She will also be teaching consumer chemistry and Earth science and coaching the girls’ basketball team.
“I really like physical challenges, and I like coaching people to challenge themselves physically,” she said. “My goal is to get them more in tune with their bodies.”
When it comes to science, Redmon said she was looking forward to learning as much as teaching.
“I’m looking forward to sparking interest, to showing students how chemistry is a part of their lives,” she said. “It’s getting them to see how all these things connect. With the sciences, you see all this stuff going on like climate change … (I want) to give them some perspective and an understanding of how the planet works.”
When she’s not in the classroom, Redmon enjoys most of the outdoor activities the Grand Canyon has to offer, including hiking, camping and cycling. She and her partner completed a rim-to-rim-to-rim last year and a hike to the river and back this summer.
“I also really like to read,” Redmon said. “If you put me in a library, you might not see me for a few days.”
Boaz Curry-El: music
An artist and musician, Boaz Curry-El is a lifelong learner and teacher. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Curry-El has traveled all over the country, settling in at Grand Canyon several years ago after receiving a degree in music education and classical alto saxophone from Virginia State University.
Along with his saxophone skills, he is also an experienced chef, leading the kitchen at Yavapai Lodge before taking the music teacher job at Grand Canyon School. It may seem a chef and a teacher are completely separate career paths, but to Curry-El, they complement each other perfectly.
Curry-El has extensive experience with the education system, teaching for Upward Bound in Virginia, private lessons in North Carolina and high school art in Flagstaff.
“I like seeing people learn,” he said. “When I’m able to relate something that seems complicated and they (the students) are able to figure it out, that’s why I teach.”
Outside of his classroom, Curry-El is always a teacher, often working with students on J-1 visas at Grand Canyon. He enjoys playing music and making art, from visual arts such as painting to martial arts.
Rebecca Markstein: Elementary art
Although teaching has long been a passion for Rebecca Markstein, she’s spent the majority of her working life as a graphic artist in both the corporate and literary world. A vast difference from her native Michigan, Markstein came to Arizona for the first time in the 1970s and most recently moved back to the area from Denver.
Art is something that comes naturally to Markstein, and she decided it was finally time to follow her dream of teaching. Since her first trip to the Grand Canyon in the 1970s, Markstein visited at least once a year thereafter, even working as a freelance graphic artist for the Grand Canyon in the 1990s.
She describes the canyon as her dream destination, and teaching as a long-held passion.
“I love art,” she said simply. “I love talking about art, sharing art and teaching about art. It was finally time to follow my passion and inspire young artists.”
Markstein said her favorite thing about teaching young children in particular is seeing the lights go off in young minds when they discover their own creativity.
“We are all artists, we all have the ability to learn the language of art to articulate and express ourselves,” she said. “Art can also reinforce any core subject, we come in with another angle for the students to learn.”
Like many members of the Grand Canyon community, Markstein enjoys hiking. She also has a love for jewelry making, including beads, metalwork and polymer clay.
Cathey Griffin: preschool
It’s been a long road with a lot of stops along the way — after teaching overseas as an employee of the U.S. Department of Defense for 25 years, Cathey Griffin is set to lead Grand Canyon School’s new preschool program.
Griffin has worked mostly with young children, including preschool and elementary, and also has experience in physical education. She looks forward to using that experience to keep the four-year-olds active in the classroom while they’re learning.
“They need to be busy, learning from playing and moving,” she said. “I like to do thematic units, so one week we might be learning about bats and the next week it could be a different type of animal. I want them to be excited about learning.”
To Griffin, preschool is the most important time for young minds because their experience can color the way they see school for several years.
“They’re going to develop a love of learning and school, or they’re not going to like it, so we want to provide the best program we can. The early grades are so important.”
Her main goal is to get students kindergarten-ready, Griffin said.
“They need a lot of social skills. If they can’t get along with one another, if they can’t get in line, if they can’t sit and pay attention, they’re going to struggle when more of the academics come in,” she explained. “We want to help build that concept of themselves.”
Thomas Washington: middle school language arts
Although he was born in Sacramento, California, Thomas Washington considers himself a native of Arizona, moving to the Phoenix area when he was in middle school. His career path didn’t always include teaching, however.
Washington said he realized that teaching was his true calling while he was attending school for carpentry and construction.
“I really wasn’t all that talented with the hands-on part of it, but I was really good with the math and the classroom aspect,” he said. “I started tutoring the other students.”
Washington said when he finished the course and was looking at landing a job, he went to his teacher and asked him if there was any way he could assist with the classroom.
“He told me ‘Why don’t you just go be a teacher?’”
Washington went on to study linguistics, and his interest lies in the scientific aspects of language and how it is formed. Middle school requires a strict, firm tone, he said, but mostly it’s about patience, relatability and mutual respect.
“I like to see those light bulbs. I like to see students learning about new perspectives and new ways of thinking,” he said. “I like to see them broaden their horizons intellectually.”
When he’s not teaching (or working with the maintenance department), Washington describes himself as a lover of the outdoors. He enjoys hiking, camping, backpacking and spending time at the area lakes.
Ronda Wolf: second grade
As a stay-at-home mom, spending a lot of time in her sons’ classrooms inspired Ronda Wolf to pursue a career in teaching. She had originally intended to become a midwife, but that changed when she realized how much she missed being around elementary students.
“I was in my boys’ classrooms all the time, but when they got to middle school, they didn’t want mom in their classroom anymore, and I realized I missed the elementary classrooms,” she said. “I loved the energy, everything about it, so I talked to my advisor and I switched to elementary education.”
Wolf said she loves the excitement of teaching young children – the “wow” moments, she calls them. She especially loves teaching reading. Wolf remembers one student who came to her one morning and told her that he had seen a word they were working on at the time at the grocery store.
“It was so amazing to him to see it outside of school, because he thought it (reading) was only in school,” she said. “That kind of excitement and energy and wow factor is amazing.”
Wolf was born in Michigan but moved to the Valley desert at the age of 10. For her, there was no going back. She described living in northern Arizona as a completely new experience.
In her spare time, Wolf said she enjoys knitting and reading, which she described as a factory setting with almost any teacher. She also collects children’s books by celebrity authors such as Jeff Foxworthy and other specialty books like the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook.
Jennifer Beebe: middle and high school history
Some Grand Canyon teachers are exploring the waters for the first time, bringing years of experience and passion to fruition. Jennifer Beebe, however, has been a teacher for many years — a love she inherited from her father, who is himself an award-winning teacher.
“Growing up with him, teaching was something we always talked about, something we still talk about,” she said. “It’s still our favorite topic.”
Beebe has taught at nearly all levels on a variety of topics, from history to kinesiology. A college political science major, she’s also been involved in organizing demonstrations, voter registration drives and canvassing.
History, however, holds a special place.
“I feel like if you don’t know history, you don’t really understand what’s going on today,” she said. “It helps if you can reference back and say ‘Hmm, I know what’s going on here.’”
Beebe said she hopes to focus not only on the most traditional subjects but bring in more information about segments of the population.
“I really want to get more women’s history, Native American, Hispanic, African American,” she said. “I feel like if people could see themselves in history, they could see their potential.”
For Beebe, the value in teaching is seeing students develop from a more narrow perspective to see the bigger picture, both academically and personally. She said she enjoys watching them go from anxiety, fear and uncertainty about the information to being able to understand and even help explain it to another student.
“I like to seeing that development, from the bigger picture to the details,” she said.
Beebe also said she wants to encourage students to speak up.
“If they don’t practice using their voices now on substantive issues, they won’t have practice enough to say why they feel the way they feel,” she said.
A lifelong Indiana resident, Beebe came to Arizona to be closer to family on the west coast. She loves travel and seeing different things and was excited about the outdoors opportunities Grand Canyon has to offer.
“I love hiking, the stars, sunsets — I love being outside,” she said.