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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.    


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.


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!