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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Marysville-Pilchuck is MY School!



Made primarily of cinder blocks, the buildings at my school are not particularly elegant looking.  If memory serves me correctly the school was built in 1970 at a cost of $6,000,000.  Pilchuck High School became the second high school in the district.  The colors were green and gold; PHS was the home of the Chargers.  With no two story buildings and covering almost 90 acres the campus was sprawling.  Classroom doors all opened to the outside; at the time it was called a “California style” school.  Didn’t the architects know it rains here?   The community was much smaller then.

In the early 70’s there were 9 consecutive school levy failures in the Marysville School District.  To cut costs Marysville High School and Pilchuck High School were merged in to one school in 1975.  That was the year I came to the high school.  Marysville High School’s colors were red and white and the mascot was the Tomahawks.  The newly combined Marysville-Pilchuck High School adopted red and white as the colors and adopted Tomahawks as the mascot.  The Pilchuck High School campus became the Marysville-Pilchuck High School campus.  Marysville High School became the junior high.  The school day was shortened, class sizes ballooned.  They were challenging times. 

In time a group of parents, led by Don DeMarco, came forward and took on the challenge of getting our Maintenance and Operation levy passed for the first time in years.  It was no small task.  In the face of need the community rallied.

Even with the two high schools combined into one, in the late 70’s we could still do an all school assembly in the auditorium.  I believe it seated about 825; we still weren’t really a very big school.  In a few years we had to do two assemblies to accommodate the growing student body.  As more and more new homes were built the student body grew; we moved assemblies to the gym.  In or near the late 90’s we had well over 2,000 students.  I believe we peaked somewhere near 2,650 kids.  We had become one of the two largest high schools in the state.  All the changes brought new challenges.  Students, staff and the community always rose to the occasion. 

I have been a real estate broker the last 5 1/2 years.  I taught from 1973-2009.  I was the Marketing teacher and DECA Advisor at Marysville-Pilchuck; I witnessed a lot of change.  I taught at a AA school, a AAA school, and a AAAA school—all that without ever changing schools.  Early on I thought of MPHS as MY school.  I loved my school and still do now.  Was it those old cinder blocks that grew on me?  Did the warping fascia boards touch my heart?  When the roof leaked in my classroom, did it endear me to that special place?  In a way I suppose it did.  More precisely it was my students who grew on me; they touched my heart.  Touched my heart?  Well, it was more like they became ingrained in my heart—they became a part of me.    

Memories:   

As a teacher I remember kids preparing for competition, practicing presentations, running for offices, and planning large scale projects.  I particularly remember the daily interactions in the classroom.  Sometimes it was an effort just to get everyone to sit down and stop talking.  Sometimes I felt clumsy and awkward with a class or with something I was hoping to accomplish.  Sometimes, certainly not always, things went smoothly.  Sometimes the classroom was incredibly exhilarating.  I enjoyed the good natured bantering with my classes.  I enjoyed getting to know them as a group and as individuals.  I enjoyed seeing kids gain skills and confidence; it was so exciting to see their eyes brighten and their backs straighten.  How many jobs are there where you get to love 150 new people every year?  How many? I had that job; for 36 years I had that job.  It was such a privilege; dear God, it was such a privilege! 

I remember school and community service projects my students and I worked on.  “Think About It…” campaigns were created to encourage kids to make good decisions in all aspects of their lives.





Breaking Down the Walls was a week long program involving hundreds of students and many staff members.  Parents and other community members also participated.  We worked to help kids see how much they really had in common with each other and to see past superficial differences.



Martin Luther King programs were done to honor the great civil rights hero and to celebrate diversity.  The Total Experience Gospel Choir sang at our assemblies.  The first year we had them they performed at 24 schools.  Later, Patrinell Wright, the founder and director of the group, told us our school had one of the two best programs they had seen.  (I never understood why we weren’t THE best.)





Our Proud to be an American program was a response to the 9/11 attacks.  While having students and staff form a 60 yard flag on the football field was the most visible part of the day’s activities the assembly beforehand was by far the best part.  Retired Army Major Daverso’s tearful and emotional response to the assembly was moving for everyone.  Once again students and staff came together to straighten our backs and choose positive responses. 





In conjunction with Marysville Rotary I remember building the Marysville-Tulalip Veterans Memorial; I doubt if there is anything quite like it on any high school campus in the country.  The project took 2 ½ years.  We researched every Marysville-Tulalip KIA veteran going back to World War I.  The dedication ceremony, done in 2005, took nearly two hours.  In attendance were over 200 people from the community.  Frank Gadwa, an Air Force pilot, was shot down over Germany during World War II.  He was a German POW for 2 years.  He attended.  Marine Corporal Jack Elkins, a Bataan Death March survivor, was in attendance.  In uniform.  The Tulalip Honor Guard presented the colors.  Marysville-Pilchuck students interviewed over 250 veterans and the families of KIA veterans.  They made a tri-fold display board for each veteran.  Captain Robert Pearson was shot down over Viet Nam in 1967.  His mother was there to help read the formal dedication of the memorial.  Gary Clifton Paddock, US Navy, died on his last day of service in Viet Nam in February of 1967.  We interviewed his mother; it was still too painful for her to attend.  Marine Lance Corporal Jack Hammond was killed in Viet Nam in October of 1967.  His mother attended the dedication.  After the dedication two students walked her out to the memorial where she gingerly touched her son’s name. 



In all of these instances kids took tremendous risks to organize and put on large scale projects.  Students, staff, parents, and the business community came together to make extremely worthwhile things happen.  This is how I remember my school and the community. 

Darkness comes: 

On the morning of October 24, 2014 the unthinkable happened at my school.  A freshman boy texted his friends and invited them to have lunch with him in the cafeteria.  He walked in and shot five of them; it was vicious, premeditated murder.  The killer then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.  At this writing two of the five victims have died.  Why did this happen?  Why?!  WHY?!!  Why, why, did this happen?!  I am horrified.  I am confused and I am grieving.  This kind of thing happens other places, faraway places, but not here, not at my school.  My school is a good place, a safe place, a very special place.  This boy shot his friends and his cousins; it is more than I can grasp. 

The victims were shot in the head.  Those young faces—smashed…  Those young lives—snuffed out…  So much promise and so much to look forward to—smothered in an instant…

I have so many questions, so many questions…What was the killer thinking?  Why did he do it?  The faces of some of the victims were so obliterated that they had trouble identifying the kids.  What was it like to be a parent of one of the victims and get the call that your son or daughter may have been shot?  If the two victims who are still in critical condition survive, what kind of life will they have?  What are the families of the two murdered girls feeling now?  What is the family of the shooter feeling now?  How are thousands of alumni feeling about their school and their community now?  How will any of the families ever move on?  How does one 15 year old wreak so much havoc and bring darkness into the lives of so many people? 

As a parent how do you explain all of this to your middle school or elementary school child?  Kids who were not even there will have nightmares.  How do you comfort and reassure your kids?  Parents will be more worried and more anxious for years to come.  Trust is broken now for everybody.  In one way or another everyone is marked by this for life.  For life.

Light: 

How do people move on?  Where does anyone begin?   How do we start to find light again?  Two of the shooter’s victims have died, two more remain in critical condition at this writing.  Another shooting victim, Nate Hatch, is currently in satisfactory condition.  He recently tweeted this:

I love you and I forgive you jaylen rest in peace
2:15 PM - 26 Oct 2014
1,656 Retweets 3,461 favorites

I asked how one 15 year old could bring so much darkness into the lives of so many people.  Is it possible that a 14 year old is showing where light begins?  How does he find it in himself to do this—to forgive the shooter?  How?!  How is he doing this?  Where does he find the strength?  Where does he find the courage?  How does he choose light in the face of devastating darkness?


Through the decades, time and again I saw students, staff, and the community come together; they are already doing it now.  They are already choosing light. 

During my years at the high school I knew so many teachers and other staff members who were hardworking, dedicated, caring people; day in and day out they put kids first.  They helped MPHS be a good place and a safe place.  They did through the decades I was there, they still do now, and I know they will in the future.  I am completely confident that the kids, the staff, the parents, the community, and the alumni will reclaim the school.

Students and staff, take the cafeteria back; take it back!   Show respect for the victims.  Paint the walls, make a change of some sort and then walk in there together and TAKE IT BACK!  Take. It. Back!  Take your cafeteria back; take your whole school back!  When the ribbons are gone, when the balloons have deflated and the flowers are faded it will finally be the staff and the students who make the cafeteria and the school your own again.  Take it back; you can do it.  Support each other, work together, trust in yourselves and each other.  I know you can.  It is in your hands.  I know you will choose light; of this I am sure.





Is Marysville-Pilchuck a good place, and a safe place?  Do I dare say it?  Yes.  Yes it is!  Marysville-Pilchuck is a good place, a safe place and such a very special place.  Marysville-Pilchuck is MY school!






41 comments:

  1. You just made me cry... I've been trying to keep smiling. But you just made me cry. Thank you. Because with each time I cry I end with a deep exhale and feel the LIGHT. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks Sage Lynn for your reply. I know you are working to feel the light; I am too.

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  2. Well said, my husband and I didn't attend MPHS but our kids did, 2 of then attended your DECA class, Brandy Villa and Daniele Villa, my husband even went to the retreats, so we are feeling the effects of this because of that. We need to help these children feel safe once again so let's help them, and us, take back their school!!!

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    1. Thanks Penny. I appreciate your reply and your thoughts. Yes, we need to help kids feel safe again.

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    1. Your are most welcome Daphne. Thank you too.

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  5. You weren't my teacher, but you were part of my community and I had several friends in DECA; everyone knew "Mr.P" when I was in school. I graduated in 2001 from MPHS in 2001 and you were part of my community. Thank you for writing this piece and honoring the greatness of our school and its history. I heard of the shooting via a phone call from my son's school shortly after the event began. I was in my car, driving north and knew I needed to get to Marysvile...not knowing what I would do when I got there. I called the school district and asked if they needed crisis counseling support, to which the replied with an emphatic "YES!" I mentally prepared myself to support the community in this time and drove to the church where students were being bussed. As a counselor, I can prepare for these things so I am better able to serve those who are suffering. What I couldn't prepare for was the emotions I would feel when I saw red faces streaked with tears of teens wearing MY letterman's jacket and shirts boasting MY school mascot and colors. Kids present during the shooting talked to me about the events, describing the layout of the cafeteria. I shared that I'd eaten in that very room hundreds of times and could picture where people were when the shooting took place. It felt like I'd sat at those tables only yesterday. I agree, we need to take back that cafeteria and the joy present there over the years. My first formal dance happened in that room. I spent time decorating it and planning another dance in another year. It was the place to reconnect with friends during your day. We can't let this event take that away from our students. I've not been able to connect with all the emotions until reading your blog and I am finally able to shed some healing tears. If you haven't heard, the alumni are joining on Sunday at 5pm to "Fill the Forum" and I know your students would love to see you there if you are available.

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    1. Tiffany, thanks so much for helping with the reunifiation; I know it made a difference for our families. Thanks also for your thoughts and kind words. I spent 6 hours at the high school yesterday and will be there this coming week.

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  6. Thank you for this. MPHS, class of 1989: then, Jana Alexander.

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  7. Beautiful. Touching. Thank you Mr. P. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Thank you P. I think I speak for many of your past alumni in saying that we were eagerly awaiting "a few words". This has been such a horrible week. As a teacher at Marysville-Getchell, this has hit home in ways I never thought possible. Never in a million years would I have imagined something like this happening at MY school, in MY district, in MY hometown. I have juggled between crying, sadness, angry, relief, worry, thankfulness, and numbness; all in a matter of a few days. This is NOT what I thought my first year of teaching would be like. I have worn my '92 MP letterman's jacket all week; and it is going to stay draped over my chair the rest of the year. I am proud to be a Tomahawk; and I am proud to have the opportunity to be there for the students this week.

    I hope you don't mind, but I have taken to repeating your Friday words. For some reason, I have a feeling that when I speak them tomorrow, I am going to have a tear in my eye as I say "keep yourself whole physically and emotionally>" It seems so surreal that there could ever be pain behind those words, but tomorrow there will be. I am hurting and I have no outlet. I have had to step in to my back room a number of times this week to not drag the kids down. I did my morning high-fives, but they were forced. Everything just feels so surreal today. I know that each week will get better. I will make it get better. I talk to my students about "P.M.A." (positive mental attitute) all the time. Your day is what you make it. If you tell yourself it will is going to be a bad day, then it is going to be a bad day. As a result, I have to live by those words; I must represent them.

    I am proud of our community, our region, our state and how they have rallied around. My Ingraham girls soccer team wore red bows on their uniforms on Monday. Students have rallied around one another. Parents have been wonderful. I am thankful to everyone. Most importantly, I am thankful to you for inspiring me when I was younger; for inspiring me to be the best teacher I can be. I will be there for my students the way you were and have been for us. Thank you P. God bless.

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    1. Thanks for your very thoughtful reply Chris. Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher.

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  9. I can feel the pounding of tables and the roar of the crowd build after reading this. I did not attend MPH but I did attend 3 DECA retreats. I would attend another if I had the chance. In the retreats I learned how talented and interesting our Teens were. I learned that there are ways to break through and communicate. The only thing is that it takes time to listen and try to understand. From what I learned in the DECA retreats is that our kids are safe, our community is safe and our school is just barely adequate. It's whats inside that makes it..no..it makes us great. Thank you for your words on this Mr. P moreover.. Thank You for Being You. Count me in on the DECA Alumni Revival Retreat!

    -Rory Villa

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    1. Thanks for your support of the program when I was at the high school Rory and thanks for your reply. I appreciate it all.

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  11. Beautifully stated! Thank you for being strong for the students and teachers at MPHS - no one should ever have to face the tragedy that you all have endured. My heart is breaking for my alma mater. I wish I was closer to show more support for the school and community, but am send love from Southern Oregon.
    ~Dannielle Byers (Kennell), MPHS Class of 2001

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    1. Thanks a lot Dannielle. I know you are with us in spirit.

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  12. Jake Chapman, class of 98' - So happy to find this. I wasn't the best student in your class, but I still remember the heart felt "A Few Words" Friday talks. You always made us all feel like we mattered and for this reason, I wish the killer could've attended just one of your famous Friday talks. We all matter and life is valuable, don't waste it. At a minimum I took that notion with me out of your class. Stay strong MP! and to all schools all over this nation.

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    1. Thanks for your reply, Jake. I appreciate your support.

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  13. Thank you for this! MP was my home, I loved it there. You said it the best... The People make it great. Take it back! Choose the good, choose the light! We decide our future, take it back! Thank you for reminding us all.
    ~Heidi (Cunnington) Ellerbeck, MPHS class of 2000

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    1. Thanks for your reply, Heidi. It will take time but I believe the staff and students will take back their school!

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  14. My father was one of those other dedicated staff employees of MPHS. Lyle Schadee Sr. He had the seemingly thankless job of being the custodian. To him it wasn't thankless in the least. Even though he wasn't a teacher I think he taught many people. He taught by example. He took great pride in the work he did and the quality of it. I never met anybody with more Tomahawk pride in my life, that was his school and he was proud to call MP home for almost 25 years. If this was 15 years ago he would have been in that cafeteria and I keep wondering what he would have done. There is no question that as an ex-Marine he would have run right at trouble full speed. There are a lot of dedicated people at MP, some you might never suspect. There are thousands of stories of why we call MP our school... Lyle. Class of 88.

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    1. Thanks Lyle. I remember your dad. Yes, I believe he would have acted quickly.

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  15. Thank you for sharing... I have wondered about this for the past week. I have only driven through Marysville and Tulalip during summer of 2013, stopping there in both directions and loving the place. I live in Upstate NY.. and the news grabbed me not only because the name Marysville was familiar and I instantly recognized and recalled where it was.. I have also personally experienced a serious trauma of loss of a friend and neighbor (whose house I could see from my house) during the first year of my high school.

    I feel personally relate to the (direct and indirect) impacted survivors of the 10/24 MPHS tragedy and the ongoing struggles - and have gone to great lengths to stay abreast of news and status of Nate, Andrew, Shaylee. I am so very saddened by the loss of Gia and Zoe.

    Meanwhile, I want people to know that this level of obsession is one of the side effects of PTSD... I lived through PTSD and it is recurring in the aftermath of this... [it did in the aftermath of 9/11 also]. I have resumed the practice exercises and techniques I was taught in my PTSD treatment but it may not be sufficient - a revisit to the therapist may be necessary if I continue to not sleep well and have recurring nightmares as I have in the past week.

    I wanted to share this because parents among you need to know that your children will likely need PTSD treatment. Survivor's guilt is a sharp thing that hits deep.

    For those on witch hunt to point fingers or dig for juicy stories -- well, they are teens and there are always juicy stories, and this is no exception either as we already found out -- to go further into pointing fingers is unnecessary and is indeed harmful. Loading actual guilt on top of survivor's guilt, however gently done by authority figures (parents, teachers, or other authorities), and make survivor's guilt far worse. BEWARE! I say this as someone who suffered from PTSD for 25 years before I even knew such as thing as treatment for PTSD existed. So, please get help, take time to heal fully going through all stages of change (including anger, by the way, handled in constructive ways with the help of experts. Do not rush through to forgiving - it is not natural - and it will come to bite you later on. Forgiving without going through the change phases is denial - it is shutting out - please recognize it for what it is. And please ensure that you seek help sooner than later - that's for children, and perhaps also for adults who are directly or indirectly affected.

    I want to thank you Mr.P - you have somehow reaffirmed the wonderful feelings I had of Marysville, Snohomish and Tulalip area. I do hope that all take positive energy and bring forth good change.

    Sudha (a teen's mom) in Upstate NY

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  16. Thank you Mr. P, this was beautifully written. I was a sophomore in your first year at MPHS and your class was always a bright spot in my day.
    Even though I've been away from Marysville for 30 years now, it's still my old "hometown" and this event was a horrible gut punch. And, like everyone else, I can't find any answers why. But thank you Mr. P for pointing out that Marysville is a wonderful, strong, resilient community, and it will come through this stronger than ever before.
    Thank you again for writing this Mr. P, and for continuing to be a bright spot.
    Stan Foster, MPHS, Class of 1978

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    1. Thanks for your reply, Stan. I remember your from 2nd period. The shooting was a horrible gut punch for all of us. It will take months and in some cases even years but I believe light will prevail.

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  17. Mr P

    My friend sent me your blog. They're beautiful, heartfelt words, letting people know about that wonderful high school. It was an incredibly special place to me. Certainly not because of the cinder blocks and outward facing doors (!), but because of the people. The people of Marysville long stay special in my heart. Years and distance don't dim that.

    I can't begin to imagine how you all feel. Being far away, I don't have my children there, I don't drive past, I don't see the red and white ribbons and flowers. I don't feel and see the obvious grief and confusion first hand. As far as I know, I don't know anyone immediately connected to those hurt or grieving. But I know they're there and it breaks my heart that so many people are feeling so much pain, in a place that's been home.

    I see on the news how people have come together, to help each other. I hope that long continues. MPHS always was a strong, loving and kind community and I am sure it remains to this day. You are right. Taking back those rooms, those spaces seems so important. I don't know how the kids and faculty begin to do that, but with people like you nearby, I'm hoping it will be a lot easier.

    Mr P, I remember your good natured-banter extremely well. You challenged us with a twinkle in your eye. You were a teacher, a guide. I needed to feel a little more connected to MPHS and your blog created that for me. I loved hearing about such positive events there, especially the Marysville-Tulalip Veteran's Memorial. Beautiful.

    Thank you for teaching and guiding us still.

    My love and respect goes to all of the MPHS community, always.

    Kay Phelps (Class of '84)

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    1. Hello Kay. Thanks for your thoughtful and heart felt reply. I remember you too; you came from far away England. You were in my third period.

      Some connections span time and distance. My heart will always be connected to MPHS no matter where I live or how much time has passed. I pray for healing for everyone in the community.

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  18. Absolutely wonderful...I'm an alumni of 1984 and have so much love for that campus as well. I was glad to be a part of "MP strong" and welcoming the kids with LOVE today, along with other Alumni. They WILL recover and heal! XXOO

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    1. Thanks for your reply Elisa and thanks for being there to help welcome the kids back; I know they appreciated it.

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  19. Healing, Helping words, as always. Even in retirement you make your school a better place. I am more proud than ever to be your colleague today! Brian Kesler, MP Teacher

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Brian. They mean a lot to me.

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  20. Beautifully written Mr. P. Wonderfully inspiring as always. -Christina Hill-Siwek

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  21. I don't personally know anyone from the M-P community, but what happened affects us all. I saw your interview on King 5 and was moved. Thanks for such compassionate words on hope and seeking the light. Peace and Tightlines, sir.

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    1. Thank you for your reply, Kirk. The even effects all of us for sure. It will take a good deal of time for people to heal. I know they will choose light.

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