Payson Teachers Share Secrets For Student Success

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The first day of school can be a nerve-racking experience for parents as well as students, especially for those making the transition from middle school to high school.

On the eve of another school year in the Rim country, two veteran Payson High School teachers paused in their busy preparations to share heartfelt words of wisdom for incoming freshmen and their parents, advice that can be applied at any grade level.

Together, Dan Maher, who teaches drafting, and Richard Alvarez, who teaches vocational woods and woodshop, have more than 50 years of classroom experience. Maher has been at it for 27 years, Alvarez for "at least that long."

The message they offer is simple: Pay attention from the start, and be responsible for your own success.

The message may be simple, but carrying it out can be tough, the teachers said.

"I have three freshman classes this year," Maher said. "They don't know what to expect. They don't know what's going on. Some come in with the attitude that they can play around.

"I try to be maybe four times as tough the first week as I am the rest of the year," he said, "just to establish what we're going to do in here. It can be a real eye-opener for them.

"The advice I give my kids on the first week of school is that they are going to get a lot of information. If they don't listen, they can get so far behind they end up dropping the class."

Alvarez, who rejoined the PHS faculty last year after a few years away from teaching, agreed. "There's a big leap between middle school and high school," he said. "A lot of kids today want cars and things like that. I tell them there's a lot of difference between a want and a need. The need is here in school and you have to treat it like a job.

"When you graduate in four years, you're expected to go to work someplace, even if you go to college. So now is the time to start getting to class on time. To start paying attention. To start setting aside time to study. How you start really sets the tone for how, or whether, you'll finish."

As for parents, Alvarez said, they don't have to be afraid of the schools.

"They need to be with their kids and get involved," he said. "Make a call and check to see how your kid is doing. We have an open door policy here in the high school, just like the lower grades do."

Maher believes a big reason many parents "drop out" when their children get to high school is because of the children themselves. "A lot of kids don't want their parents involved when they reach this age, so they don't take anything home. Many parents have no idea what we have here," he said, gesturing at the rows and rows of computers and other sophisticated equipment used by drafting students.

"Kids produce some amazing work on these machines, but even the parents of the best kids often don't have a clue."

For Maher and Alvarez, the first day of school is just "another opening, another show," something they've experienced many, many times.

But even after all those years, they say they both care about the students who will walk into their classrooms Wednesday morning.

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