Former Dorchester 2 students return to their roots to teach

New teacher Mary-Kate Ward organizes her work space as she prepares for the first day of school at Ashley Ridge High School. Buy this photo

When the doors open at Dorchester and Berkeley county schools Monday, several teachers will be on the other side of the desk for the first time.

Some, like Allison Zobel and Mary-Kate Ward, will still understand when their students talk about videos on Vine or “Blurred Lines” or any other hot teenage trend. They aren't that far removed from them themselves.

The pair, both 22, are products of Dorchester 2 schools. Both graduated from college in 2013 and will be teaching at the district's Ashley Ridge High School this fall.

“The new (district-wide) teacher orientation was like a reunion of my high school teacher cadet class,” said Zobel, a 2009 graduate of Summerville High School who is teaching theater education to the Swampfoxes this year.

“Being close in age to your students can make it that much more difficult, but with the older students, they've been in the school so they know how high school works so that can be an advantage with behavior and management,” said Ward, who went to Fort Dorchester in ninth and 10th grades but graduated from the Governor's School of Math and Science in 2009. She'll be teaching physical science and biology at Ashley Ridge.

Others, like Carolyn McNair, took a more circuitous route on their way to becoming educators.

McNair is a 2002 Summerville grad who went on to Converse College and the USC Law School and practiced family law for five years before deciding to become a teacher. She is going through the state's Program of Alternative Certification for Teachers to become certified to teach English and journalism.

“I had a job that I left voluntarily,” she said. “Being a lawyer isn't what most people think it is.”

Being homegrown in Dorchester 2 is nothing new. At Ashley Ridge, about a quarter of the faculty are graduates of the system.

“It just goes to show what a great district this is,” said principal Karen Radcliffe, herself a graduate of Summerville High.

Ward agrees.

“If you're going to teach in the state, this is where to teach,” she said.

At the same time, it's strange to teach alongside some of the people who once taught them, they said.

“I still feel like I should be calling Mr. Hinkel 'Mr. Hinkel,'” Zobel said of Josh Hinkel, the Swampfox band director who worked at Rollings School of the Arts when she was a student there.

All three rookie teachers knew what they were getting into before choosing to become educators because they grew up with parents who are teachers, principals and professors. Zobel's mother, Trudy Zobel, and Ward's mother, Karen Spillane, are themselves long-time employees of the district, and McNair's mother, Linda Karges-Bone, is a Charleston Southern University education professor who has written several books.

“I decided like 8th grade that I wanted to be a teacher,” said Zobel. “But I'm the kind of person, I need to know what I was going to do early on.”

But Ward, who also got married this summer, changed majors a few times at Clemson before settling on science education.

“Growing up in education, sometimes you want to get away from it,” she said. “But it just felt right and I kept coming back to it. I knew it was a lot of work and it was going to be hard.”

In a district where school pride is paramount, it might seem like sacrilege to make the switch from being a Greenwave or a Patriot to being a Swampfox, but the women feel sure they will be among the Ridge Rowdies when it comes to cheering for their new school.

“I plan to be here for plays and sports,” Ward said. “I'm really excited because they have themes for the football games.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.twitter.com/brindge.

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