Is there a greater testament to a school’s significance than when a former student returns to work there as an adult? We talked to local teachers who fit in this category about how it feels to mold the next generation of children in the schools that molded them.

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Ashlee Elliott

Creek View Elementary School Third Grade Teacher

2007 THS Graduate

Years Teaching: 7

Favorite Memories as a Student: Marching under the Friday night lights as a majorette; being on yearbook as a junior and senior with Mrs. Lamar; attending Thompson soccer games to cheer on my high school sweetheart!

Favorite Memories as a Teacher: Oh wow, there are so many of those. Honestly, all the relationships I have created with students and parents have given my life so much fulfillment. Those “ah-ha” moments when students finally master a math skill or fall in love with the story they’re writing- their excitement is so authentic and contagious!

Best Part of Being Back: Rekindling relationships with former teachers and administrators as an adult myself. I also love giving back to the community that gave me so much! The feeling of that is so irreplaceable.

What Has Changed or Not Changed: Changed – Creek View only goes through third grade now. When I attended it went through fifth. And, of course, the new “college” in town, Thompson High School, where my husband teaches! We are so incredibly grateful as graduates to see the ongoing success with the city school system!

What You Like to Share About Your School: I could share so many amazing things about Creek View, but the most important thing is that we function as a family in all that we do. There is just something about being at CVES that makes my students and I feel so at home. Our school’s focus is truly on loving our students and helping them reach success in all they do! It’s always a great day to be a Warrior!

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Tena Niven

Montevallo High School U.S. History 10 and Physical Education Teacher, JV Girls Volleyball Coach, Varsity Girls Basketball Coach, Varsity/JV Boys Soccer Coach, Announcer for Varsity Football Games, Social Studies Department Head

1987 MHS Graduate

Years Teaching: 24

Favorite Memories as a Student: I made the varsity basketball team as a ninth grader, and from there, my shyness began to disappear. I was also involved in marching band, where I played the trumpet. I stopped marching to play volleyball beginning in the 11th grade. I continued to be in symphonic band, where I switched to playing the French horn. I had two very influential, godly men that coached me in basketball: Richard Gilliam, who served as a role model for how I wanted to coach and be known; and Johnye Horton, whose passion and desire to help me and my teammates become great was contagious and exciting. He passed the girls basketball program down to me, and I hope to one day pass it to one of my former players.

Favorite Memories as a Teacher: I enjoy when my current students come to my room in the morning just to tell me “good morning” and get a hug. Because I have no children of my own, I feel like the students in the school are my children and I care about them and their future.

Best Part of Being Back: I want the children of Montevallo to receive the best education they can, just like I did at Montevallo High School.

What Has Changed or Not Changed: There have been a couple of wings added to the school. The student population has definitely changed. Today, we have a large Hispanic population. There were no Hispanic students or students from a different culture when I was in high school unless they were an exchange student. But I love the diversity of our school. I love the way our students are accepting of others that are different.

What You Like to Share About Your School: We are a family. I remind my students that they can be anything they want to be with a degree from Montevallo High School: Director of NASA, president of Parker NY (fashion design), NFL football player, principal computational biologist, state senator, or teachers and principals of Shelby County schools.

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Shannon Reilly

Chelsea High School Honors and AP Chemistry Teacher, Stingettes (Dance/Majorettes) Sponsor

2013 CHHS Graduate

Years Teaching: 1

Favorite Memories as a Student: I loved my time at Chelsea High School as a student! Some of my favorite memories included playing on the tennis team and attending pep rallies.

Favorite Memories as a Teacher: My favorite memories as a teacher are my students. I love seeing students that I have taught/encountered throughout my short time as a teacher in the hallways and catching up with them.

Best Part of Being Back: The best part of being back is getting to work with teachers that I looked up to as a student; they are so helpful and encouraging! Also, I never had to worry about getting lost and that was a definite plus.

What Has Changed or Not Changed: The school has definitely become much larger since I graduated, both in population and hallways.

What You Like to Share About Your School: I love that Chelsea High School never stopped feeling like a home to me, both as a student and a teacher. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to teach here!

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Ellie Littleton

Shelby County High School Academic Interventionist, History Department Chair

1993 SCHS Graduate

Years Teaching: 14

Favorite Memories as a Student: Friendships, cheerleading (pep rallies and football games), our coaches formed a band called the Swingin’ Medallions for the school talent show.

Favorite Memories as a Teacher: Funny mishaps of saying the wrong thing while teaching that students nor I ever forget, hearing students say how much they learned in my class, 2014-2015 AP students planning a birthday party for me, notes/letters from students through the years, being selected as “Most Like Mom” in Teacher Who’s Who.

Best Part of Being Back: It’s home, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my teachers – Coach D and Coach McCoy (two of the coaches in the Swingin’ Medallions back in the ’90s).

What Has Changed or Not Changed: The building itself has changed – new wings have been added (English wing and math wing, the library has been completely renovated and the gym has expanded with an upper set of bleachers). The school pride, family-like atmosphere, sense of community and traditions that made it a great place to go to high school are still alive and thriving, making it a great place still to go to high school.

What You Like to Share About Your School: SCHS has long-standing traditions, such as our Homecoming Week activities and parade, and it functions as a family. It is a place where teachers know students, and their families and teachers know each other too. We work together to serve our students and create a conducive learning environment where we, as faculty and staff, and our students feel welcomed, wanted and loved. While SCHS is the oldest high school building (the original parts) in our county, it is most likely the cleanest school facility.

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Connie Nolen

Pelham High School Communication and Media Arts Academy Director, Literary Magazine Adviser, Quill and Scroll Honor Society Sponsor, Write Night Coordinator, Writing Electives and Junior English Teacher

1981 PHS Graduate

Years Teaching: More than 30

Favorite Memories as a Student: My teachers were amazing! Charlotte Rowland, Linda Walker Cotten, Fran Taylor, Margaret Bishop, Mary Francis Sims, Terry Bresler, Pam Campbell, B.J. Gilmore, Sallye Rigsby, and so many more! They believed in me. They set the bar high, accepted no excuses, and insisted that I could accomplish difficult goals. They’re still setting the standard. I work to be the out-of-the-box, inspiring and creative teacher each of my teachers chose to be.

Favorite Memories as a Teacher: When students succeed, I love bearing witness to that success. Those student victories have created sweet memories. I also have lovely memories of the generosity of my teachers when I returned to teach alongside them. Looking back, I am so sure that I was full of myself. My teachers overlooked my bravado, encouraged me, and gave me opportunities. Write Night, the winter fundraiser that my very first literary magazine staff created in 2004, is an annual favorite memory. Students succeed at Write Night as they perform instrumental and vocal music, spoken word poetry, and skits. The supportive spirit of the audience is magical and encouraging. Former Lit Mag staffers often show up. Write Night is game day for our creative students. Students take the stage and shine.

Best Part of Being Back: The best part of returning to PHS was being part of the community. My parents were still in the area and eventually, one of my brothers moved back to Pelham with his family. My older brother resides with his family in Chelsea. Knowing the history of the school since its beginnings, seeing how wonderful my former teachers were as colleagues and how hard they worked—all of this perspective created an enormous gratitude in me that will always feel fresh and renewed. Spending almost my entire career working with Kim Nall Harrison and Nelson Gooden has also been a rich blessing. Working with former students who became teachers and returned to PHS through the years, like Ryan Dye and Gwen Meister Acre (now at Vestavia High), has also been a great joy. My husband Jerry still helps me out at school when I’m setting up a classroom and managing Write Night. I still love the community of the school and the way our schools serve as a gathering place for our communities.

What Has Changed or Not Changed: The school seems to span a couple of counties now extending with new wings on both ends creating an expanse of hallways that stretch well beyond the Pelham High School of my student years. Amazing additions include a bio-med lab, an engineering suite, an auditorium, art rooms including a dark room and a kiln.

What You Like to Share About Your School: We have the most amazing, fearless and talented students. They produce stunning work to enter competitions and these hardworking students delight me with the awards they win. Through the writing program, we’ve had two students win comprehensive Smith Foundation Scholarships twice; we’ve have Library of Congress Letters about Literature State 1st place winners twice—with numerous students taking top honors in the contest each year. Art and writing students have captured many gold and silver keys through the annual Scholastic Art and Writing Contest. With the Alabama Writers’ Forum High School Literary Arts Competition, Pelham High’s students have also done extremely well with several winning Senior Portfolio Scholarships through the years—and last year, junior Anna Carden captured 1st place in poetry in the state. In December, Pelham High School received notification that we’ve been chosen as an AP Capstone school for the 2019-2020 school year. Only 12 schools in Alabama currently hold this distinction so we’re genuinely excited. AP Capstone offers students the opportunity to research, present and write on topics of their choosing—both collaboratively and independently. This student-directed course will allow students to begin the AP program as early as sophomore year developing their intellectual curiosity and experiencing college-level exploration. PHS students have many talents and Pelham has a long-standing tradition of exceptional writers and scholars.

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Danleigh Jenkins

Thompson High School Geometry and Pre-AP Geometry Teacher, Color Guard Coach, Prom Coordinator, ACT Prep Cohort Teacher

2011 THS Graduate

Years Teaching: 3

Favorite Memories as a Student: My favorite memories as a student were being involved in the Marching Southern Sounds as a member of the Dance Team.

Favorite Memories as a Teacher: My favorite memory as a teacher is the parade of graduates. I teach mostly ninth and 10th graders, so I get to know them in the first couple years of high school and then get to see them year after year in the hallway. Watching my students walk through the hallway with their head high during the parade of graduates is definitely one of my favorite memories.

Best Part of Being Back: The best part about being back at Thompson High School is the relationship with the teachers and employees. It is so neat to know be friends with the same teachers and employees that had such a huge impact on my educational career. I am forever grateful for their mentorship in my time as a student and now in my time as their colleague. Another one of my favorite parts about being back is being part of the legacy of opening Thompson High School. I was the first teacher to ever teach in my classroom at what we call “Thompson University,” and that is so humbling to me.

What Has Changed or Not Changed: Dress code, cell phones/head phones and football. Students these days will never understand the pain we went through each day trying to make sure we were in full dress code so we didn’t get in trouble. Also, I will never forget the day I had my cell phone taken up in class because I didn’t succeed in texting with it in my purse. It was a heartbreaking day. Now students use their cell phones in the classroom on a daily basis. Whether it is for using the calculator, Google Classroom or listening to music while doing individual work, cell phones and headphones are integrated into my classroom. The football team has also changed. My senior year of high school the football team went 1-9. Our biggest rival then was Pelham.

What You Like to Share About Your School: Thompson is paving way for other high schools in our state. The College and Career Academy program Thompson has is incredible. Students have the ability to study and have experience in academies that will best prepare for their careers after high school.