September 22, 2017

Zack Pettijohn and Kelsie Gerry both employees at Camp Laurel in Mount Vernon Main, read the TALON

Zack Pettijohn has been an instructor at Aztec High School for over twenty years. He shared that the passage of time "hit" him recently when the anniversary of September 11, 2001 was commemorated, and he recognized that many of his current students had not even been born at that time! While he began as a photography instructor, he soon found himself teaching in the art department. "I wasn't an art kid", Zack admits, but after taking an art class in college he discovered that he really appreciated and enjoyed art.

It was a surprise for Zack, and his parents when he announced he wanted to get his college degree in art. Apparently, that appreciation has translated into his students appreciating him! Students feel comfortable in Mr. Pettijohn's class. It seems that for many of them, art class is a safety net; a place they know they can defrag from the pressures of academia and express themselves through their art without fear of judgment.

Recently, many of the art students' work was represented in the New Mexico State Fair that took place in Albuquerque September 7-17. Mr. Pettijohn and the students waited expectantly to hear the results. Some students were able to attend the fair and see their pieces displayed. The artwork submitted to the fair are pieces from the previous year's students. That meant some of the students had already graduated. Or, perhaps they represent a student who did not pursue further art classes. However, participating in the New Mexico State Fair is a practice that had been customary since before Zack's tenure. He feels it is an important piece of the student's experience. It seems that it is viewed as a consummation of the previous school years' classes.

It happens that Mr. Pettijohn is in the last days of his contract with Aztec High School, and he and his students shared mixed emotions. They all expressed sadness related to his transition to San Juan College School of Trades in Farmington, to teach carpentry. However, he feels fortunate to have this opportunity, and those that know him understand why this is not a time of regret. He explains, he knows construction inside out. His family background included property acquisition and management. He worked side by side with his dad in property management growing up. And, as an adult, he continues to take on such projects.

Zack did not want to simply leave once given the opportunity to transition to San Juan College. He was able to carefully arrange for a highly qualified semi-retired art teacher, Anne Hartman, to take over his position. Zack and Anne go way back, he respects her background and skills. He feels comfortable leaving his students in her hands. He and Anne have a seamless plan which includes several days that they will both be available in the classroom.

It is obvious Zack cares deeply about his students. At the same time he has FUN! For instance, his annual I.D. photos for Aztec High often depicted costumes such as a farmer Banjo Player. He can be found in the hallways playing his banjo on Fridays. Another year he donned snorkeling equipment and had to assure security and other faculty that he was an instructor. In a time when simply hiring and retaining teachers in a K-12 setting is difficult, he has been a bright spot. Hats, and snorkels, off to Zack!


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