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Staying After School
Returning to CHS
By Nancy Gagnier
Many Columbia High School graduates leave home each year to pursue college degrees and careers, but several soon return. The South Orange and Maplewood public schools employ nearly 40 CHS alumni. In fact, every school has at least one staff member who graduated from CHS sometime in the last 50 years. Six of those alums share memories of the past and perspectives on the present.
Carolyn Stickle graduated from CHS in 1949, raised her family here, and has been working for the district since the early 1970's. After substituting, then working in the music department and the Adult School, Stickle became the guidance secretary; a position allows her to help students achieve their post-graduation goals.
If anything has changed in the last fifty years, according to Stickle, it's the course offerings. Sewing and home economics, for example, are gone from CHS, but Stickle remembers the days when there was an advanced sewing class. She learned enough to make most of her clothes and to be voted "Best-dressed" by her class. Student participation in the creative and performing arts, however, has remained consistent. One of the highlights of Mrs. Stickle's high school years was her participation in "Junior Night," an original musical produced and performed by the junior class. "It was a unique experience, one of belonging and camaraderie, something all teenagers need in their formative years," she recalls.
Merle Hornstein, a fourth grade teacher at South Mountain and a 1963 CHS graduate, describes her high school years with nostalgia. "I enjoyed the all-American small-town feel of the school. My memories include pep rallies, weekend football games, carhops, and some interesting classes!"
Hornstein has always lived in the community and her two sons also graduated from CHS. She wanted to teach here so that she could benefit her students with the same great education she received. "It's a credit to the towns that people return to live and work here," she explains.
James Memoli, class of 1964, has been working in the district for more than thirty years. He started at the high school as a Spanish teacher, became the Department Head and then the Director of Foreign Languages and today he works in the Central Office as an Assistant Superintendent. As a student he enjoyed performing in the concert choir and in the cast of Kiss Me Kate. Memoli offers an administrator's perspective on the strengths of the district and the reason why he has stayed all these years. "Whatever changes we have faced, the strong programs, the work ethic and a staff that always demands excellence have remained constant," he says.
Judith Cohen graduated from CHS in 1971 and has been on the staff for twenty-five years. Although she started her career as an English teacher, Cohen often found herself counseling students. She earned a Masters degree in counseling and has been a CHS student assistance and crisis counselor for more than fifteen years. Cohen says, "This district encourages the staff to take academic risks and is frequently the first to introduce new concepts in education. Everyone here cares about kids. The grass is so green here; I have no reason to go anywhere else."
Physical Education teacher David Brothers left Columbia for Rutgers College in 1985, but soon returned. His best memories are of the proms, graduation at Underhill Field, and his athletic teams: "I was on the football, wrestling and lacrosse teams. The coaches really had a major impact on my teenage years," says Brothers. Their influence has extended into his adult life as well. Brothers has been head wrestling coach since 1995 and head lacrosse coach since 2001, and is the only coach in the state to have received three coaching awards in one year. "I love what I do and especially where I do it. Maplewood and CHS are home to me," adds Brothers.
Alex Somer, class of 1997, called CHS when she was a senior in Wellesley. She began teaching math there soon after graduation. While at CHS, Somer enjoyed running the prom and participating in marching band. In addition to fond memories bringing her home, "I had the added incentive of living in South Orange where my family has resided for over one hundred years," explains Somer.
These CHS alums have witnessed firsthand the exciting changes in their hometowns and the district schools. It is a testament to the towns that former students return to the schools launched them in life.
Nancy Gagnier went to Clinton School through 4th grade, her parents and extended family are CHS graduates, and she hopes to see her three kids as CHS seniors in 2011, 2114, and 2019.
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