As spring turns into summer, it’s a time of endings and new beginnings; classes are let out and high school seniors move on to new pursuits, while longtime teachers walk the halls for the last time as staff and prepare for a new phase of life in retirement.
It’s bittersweet, ripe with the potential for the future and memories of the past.
At Glacier High School, senior Devon Zander is on the launching pad for a major adventure: in the fall, she will attend Stanford University to study chemistry or human biology, perhaps both.
Stanford was her top choice, Zander, 18, said, and she found out last December she was accepted. If it was a surprise to her, she was alone.
“She’s probably one of the brightest students I’ve ever taught,” chemistry teacher Todd Morstein said. “She’s just very, very talented.”
Zander moved to Kalispell with her family – mom Melanie, dad Kirk and older brother Mitch – when she was 4 years old, growing up in the school system and among the natural wonders of the Flathead Valley.
She had always enjoyed science in grade and middle school, but taking chemistry and biology her freshman year cemented her passion for it.
“It’s interesting how it explores the world we’re in,” Zander said. “If you have a question, science can answer it.”
That interest translated to a successful high school career, with a 4.0 GPA and Advanced Placement classes. Zander is also the student body president, and takes time to tutor others as well.
At Stanford, Zander hopes to study previous scientific discoveries but also perhaps make new ones of her own. Until she moves to California at the end of the summer, Zander intends on making more memories in the Flathead, like hiking her favorite trail to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park.
“Hopefully I’m just hiking around and having as much fun in the valley as I can before I go,” Zander said.
Pat Ashworth, a special education teacher at Flathead High School, understands the importance of being where you love. A teacher for 40 years, Ashworth has spent the last 14 years of her career at Flathead High, working with students who have a rougher go of their high school years due to learning or emotional difficulties.
A graduate of University of Connecticut, Ashworth initially started working with such populations as a pre-med student, but realized she wanted to be more involved in their lives.
“Treating from the outside seemed a lot more sensible,” Ashworth said.
Since then, she’s worked with every student grade level, from pre-kindergarten to college. Her favorite, she acknowledged, is where she’s been for the last decade and a half.
“I’ve always been drawn to the high school level,” she said. “I like to be able to help them see that they can do this.”
It’s a job that offers constant challenge and reward, she said. Many of the students and their parents are used to having to fight to get a solution they can work with, and Ashworth is happy to help work with them and show them there won’t be a fight with her.
“Our job is to show them success,” she said.
One of the big lessons she’s learned about working with students is to be honest and straightforward when it comes to both the positive and the negative aspects of life.
If a parent needs a call for an update about their child every day, then she’ll give them a call every day, Ashworth said. And if a student is given certain parameters and they break the rules, the consequences have to be consistent.
“Always do what you say you’re going to do,” Ashworth said. “I’m the same person every day for these kids and their parents.”
Ashworth and her husband, Bob, fell in love with the Flathead in 1981, during their honeymoon. Their truck broke down in Glacier Park, and they spent some unplanned time in the valley.
They bought their first vacation home here in 1982, and moved here permanently in 2000. They have a ranch, with 14 longhorn cattle, three horses, and myriad other animals.
Leaving the world she’s lived in most of her life – she started teaching at age 21, right out of college – is exciting in its potential, but Ashworth said it’s going to take some time to get used to her new life.
“I’m truly going to miss this,” she said. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”
Retirement means more time outdoors with her husband, she said, and working on their ranch all 12 months of the year. But first, they’re taking a well-deserved break and heading to hike the Swiss Alps for a couple of weeks.
After taking time away, Ashworth is sure she’ll come back to teaching in some form, whether that’s mentoring new teachers or writing about her experiences. She also plans on taking classes, because her love for learning is still strong.
“I love it,” she said. “I always have, and I’m sure I always will.”
It’s easy to see Ashworth’s expertise will be missed at Flathead; for her retirement, she received a shirt hanging in her office that simply says,
“Keep Calm and Let Pat Ashworth Handle It.”
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