Student Teachers: Pierson Grads Come Home to Teach

Posted on 29 May 2009

 

Pierson alumni, and current teacher, Sean Kelly was just 14-years-old when his family moved to Sag Harbor from a rural, landlocked town in Ireland. Although, his new home and old stomping grounds were separated by thousands of miles, Kelly says both shared a tight-knit community. This close sensibility allowed Kelly to flourish at Pierson High School and he was soon playing on sports teams and garnering a stellar academic record. Kelly graduated in 1999 and went on to earn a Bachelors degree at Harvard University, but soon returned to Pierson to teach social studies.

Above: Government and Economics Teacher Dr. Jon Baer. 

 When Kelly became a member of the high school faculty, he joined dozens of former alumni who currently work for the district as educators, administrators, custodians, kitchen help and school board members. Of the nearly 40 alumni who work for the district in some capacity, many of them say they were drawn to Sag Harbor because of the close-knit school community.

Above: Social Studies Teacher Sean Kelly, then and now. 

 “I feel very blessed to work for the school. I always knew that I wanted to invest my life in Sag Harbor because of the location and the community,” said Kate Berkoski, a fellow 1999 Pierson graduate and current fifth grade teacher. “Every teacher I had from kindergarten through sixth grade is still working at the school.”

 “The teachers really try to do something more than educate. They try to give students an experience,” continued Berkoski, referencing programs such as the annual fifth grade Wax Museum and the recent Ellis Island project where children mimicked the journey of turn of the century immigrants.

 Dr. Jon Baer, Pierson’s government and economics teacher and a member of the class of 1963, fondly recalls how his English teacher, Helen Muller, inspired him to pursue a degree in education. Dr. Baer, however, pursued this career later in life after spending years in the army, earning masters degrees in education and political science, a doctorate in political science and working for the local radio station WLNG until 2000.

 “It was kind of my dream to teach English because of my teachers from Pierson,” contended Dr. Baer. “The school is very cozy and friendly.”

 Although Dr. Baer fostered close relationships with a few select teachers, he says on the whole, teacher and student dynamics were more formal in the past, which is noticeably different today.

 “[Now] teachers can joke around with their students. There isn’t that barrier and I think it is that sense of community [between teacher and student] that leads to less drugs and violence in our schools,” opined Dr. Baer.

 Closer ties between the faculty and students is one change of many, adds Dr.  Baer, compared to his experiences at Pierson. Academically, Dr. Baer says the school focused on business and career training electives in the 1960s. During this time, Pierson offered classes in accounting, bookkeeping and typing. Current Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher Bethany Deyermond, who graduated in 1971, remembers learning to balance her checkbook in one class.

 According to Dr. Baer, vocational oriented courses, such as electrical shop classes, were mainly dominated by male students, while woman traditionally attended the home economics and typing classes.  

 

 When Terri Federico graduated from Pierson in 1983, the school was just beginning to offer special education courses and the school provided students with little help when applying to colleges.

 “They now make it easier to apply,” said Federico, who added that when she was in school Advanced Placement programs weren’t offered.

 “Many more kids go to college now than before,” said Dr. Baer.

 In addition to better preparedness for college, Kelly added that the school now offers a more diverse curriculum and elective course offerings.

 “I look at what the kids have available to them now with a certain amount of envy. They have all of these amazing extra curriculars, facilities, science labs and the library. There is such a variety of classes. There is an outlet for any individual skill — like sports, art, drama. Each individual can find a way to show their talent. I wish I had had that diverse experience, though my experience was amazing,” opined Kelly.

 Kelly says the small class size also gives the school the feel of a private institution, with which Frank Atkinson-Barnes, a social studies teacher who taught at several boarding and private schools before starting at Pierson, agreed. Several of the teachers reported that the number of Pierson students has remained relatively stable throughout the years.

 Although each alumni turned teacher fondly recalls their Pierson experiences, few expected to end up teaching in the district where they grew up. Atkinson-Barnes says he applied to schools very far from Pierson and attended college in Virginia.

 “When I left to go away to college, I don’t think I ever thought I would come back to Sag Harbor,” remembered Deyermond, though life had other plans for her. After attending college in Pennsylvania and Vermont, Deyermond transferred to Southampton College to finish out her studies and to be closer to her future husband Ed Deyermond, now a village trustee and Southampton Town Assessor.

 Others, like Federico and Berkoski, always had an inkling that their paths would lead them back to the village. Federico didn’t stray far and completed the bulk of her studies at C.W. Post and Southampton College. Although, Berkoski attended college in North Carolina, she ended up returning home shortly after graduation.

 Though teaching in the Sag Harbor school district was an unexpected turn of events for several Pierson graduates, many of them say they feel lucky to work for the school.

 “Pierson educates its students to a high enough level that the school wants them to come back,” said Kelly. “For those of us who came back, Pierson treated us so well and our experiences were so amazing that we wanted to come back.”

 

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