Two longtime Hays USD 489 educators’ contributions are being recognized during the Hays High School homecoming festivities this week.
Donna Cooper is receiving the Hays High Alumni Association 2015 distinguished service award. Cooper, who retired in 2013, spent all but two years of her 46-year teaching career in the Hays school district, most of them at Hays High.
Kathy Spicer, HHS counselor who retired at the end of the school year, has been asked to serve as the grand marshal of the parade. She spent all of her 42-year career in education at USD 489.
Hays-NEA teacher of the year Patsy Thorell also will be recognized.
Cooper taught one year of eighth-grade science at the former Kennedy Middle School before moving to Hays High, where, except for one year, she taught biology.
Cooper said it’s an honor to receive the distinguished service award.
“I really loved teaching biology, and it was good teaching conditions,” she said.
Her goal was “getting sophomores turned on academically.”
Having students return and talk about their experiences in class and on science club field trips was rewarding.
“I ran a really active science club for many years,” she said.
John Jeter, Jeff Curtis and Jeff Henry, now physicians, are former students who’ve come back to the community.
“When I hear from them, and they say I got them interested, started in what turned out to be a lifetime career, that’s really nice,” she said.
Cooper said she tried to provide a variety of experiences for students in the science club such as the Cosmosphere, to see cranes in Nebraska, and the Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.
It was frustrating when the science club field trips stopped because the “district did not have funds to pay for transportation. The kids could not raise enough money to pay for their activities and to pay for the bus and bus drivers.”
Cooper has done some substitute teaching in retirement.
“I really, really missed teaching. As a substitute, I enjoy the enthusiasm and energy of teenagers.”
She also spends time at the health center and gardening and reading.
Her older son gave her a puppy “since I wasn’t spending so many hours at school and paper-grading. I really don’t miss paper-grading. I do miss the kids and my colleagues.”
Getting a secondary education was important to Spicer, the first generation in her family to attend college. She wanted to be a counselor and “help young people with the bumps of adolescence and to select their future careers,” since she was in high school. Working at Hays High was “a dream job.”
Being selected as the homecoming parade grand marshal is an unexpected honor, she said.
Spicer started as a math teacher at the former Hays Junior High, working part-time for two years and earning her master’s degree in counseling. She moved to full-time math teacher for the third year and went to Hays High the next year as a counselor, a position she had for 39 years.
“I feel so blessed. That’s the best word to describe it,” she said. “I always felt privileged to be a part of this district and community. It’s just been wonderful.”
During her four-decade tenure, Spicer has worked with several colleagues and administrators, and seen quite a few changes in education such as going from mimeographed sheets to computers.
One thing that didn’t change through the years was Spicers desire to “help motivate students and get them the resources they need to be successful.”
For the time being, she plans to catch up on her rest, spend time with family and enjoy putting up the bountiful crops her husband Pat grows in their garden.
The time to retire “seemed right. It’s all good. I’m at peace with it and looking forward to new adventures.”