The years between elementary school and high school are filled with embarrassing moments and life lessons. For some, middle school was a positive experience. Five former Seneca Ridge Middle School students had such a positive experience, they decided to come back and teach.
DURING HIS MIDDLE school years, 26-year-old Patrick McNanley described himself as an average student. Between 1991 and 1993, McNanley walked the halls of Seneca Ridge as a student. This year, he returned to the Sterling school to teach physical education.
"This is my neighborhood," the sixth-grade teacher said. "I grew up in Loudoun County Public Schools."
After three years of teaching at Sugarland Elementary School, where he also studied, McNanley wanted a change. He decided to return to Seneca Ridge.
"I like being able to identify with the kids," he said. "I know what its like to walk a mile in their shoes."
Whether he’s teaching sixth-graders the rules of a game or health and safety, McNanley likes to keep things "light." When standing in front of a class, he said he remembers his middle-school physical-education teacher and coach Kris Kelican.
"He had a big influence on me and why I became a teacher and coach," he said.
LIKE MCNANLEY, 28-year-old Liz Green was influenced by a Seneca Ridge Middle School employee.
When Green was a student at the school in 1989, she was introduced to guidance counselor Gary Sharp.
In 2003, Green was hired to serve as guidance counselor to eighth-graders there.
"He had a really big influence on my life and is one of the reasons I chose to become a guidance counselor," she said. "I try to get to know the kids like he did."
With Sharp in mind, Green takes the time to get to know her students on an individual basis. At the beginning of the school year, Green likes to learn one fact about her students that no one else knows. She said she also likes to "tell jokes and act goofy" to make students feel comfortable in her office.
"He had a really great relationship with the kids," she said. "That’s always a goal of mine."
FOR FAITH WILLIAMS, returning to the Sterling school was a no-brainer.
When Williams attended in 1992, she met her mentor, seventh-grade English and social studies teacher Albert Howard.
"Most of my friends didn’t really like him," she said.
"He was really mean," Green recalled.
Williams remembers the former Seneca Ridge teacher as strict.
"He had a different sense of humor," she said. "We clicked. He really liked me and I really like him. I enjoyed his class."
Williams’ positive experience there made it easy to return to her alma mater.
"I wanted to make the kind of connection I made with Mr. Howard," she said.
SEVENTH-GRADE history teacher Andy Fertick makes connections with his students every day. It was his seventh-grade history teacher, Dean Allnut, that inspired him to come back.
"He’s not here anymore, but he inspired me to become a teacher," he said. "I was surprised to see how many teachers are still here."
The 26-year-old described himself as an average middle-school student. When Furtick entered high school and college he said he "picked it up."
"Loudoun County Public Schools definitely prepared me well for college," he said.
AFTER LIVING ON the West Coast for five years, Autumn Leigh was excited to move home and teach at her former middle school.
The English teacher remembers walking through the school’s halls as a student in 1989.
"I had a really positive experience here," she said, "aside from a few embarrassing moments."
Leigh remembered Green as a student.
From across the table Friday, the colleagues recalled an eighth-grade memory.
"Do you remember the walkout?" Green asked Leigh. "They were going to let a few teachers go because of a budget crisis."
Talk of the walkout triggered McNanley’s memory of another event.
"I’ll never forget the blackout," he said. "I remember Ms. Knoll telling ghost stories in the hallway to pass the time. She still asks me about that. I’m still friends with her son."
SENECA RIDGE Middle School Principal Mark McDermott is excited to have five former students return to teach this year.
"I taught Faith [Williams] for three years and she turned out OK," he laughed. "It’s rewarding to have them back here. It says a lot about our school. They all had good experiences here."
The twentysomething crew provides a fresh outlook and a lot of experience to students.
"We’re from the neighborhood," McNanley said.
Last week, McDermott introduced the five teachers to parents at their Back-to-school night.
"The kids think it’s really cool," Green said. "They say, ‘the school’s that old?’"
"The parents were impressed, too," McNanley added. "It shows a lot about how we feel about the school."
"I’m excited to be back," Leigh said. "They really do value education here."