When the school bell rings on Wednesday, June 8 to dismiss students from Yosemite High School for the summer break, an era will come to an end. Ellen Peterson, the last of the original YHS teachers will erase her boards, submit her final set of grades, and retire. It will be the end of a 40-year tenure at that one school.
Ellen will be missed. The students fortunate enough to have sat and learned history in her classes came away with a view of this country and themselves due to her outstanding teaching abilities. When they sat in her classes they knew early on that she was a great teacher and that she cared about them.
Prior to 1976 the students in this area were bussed all the way to Sierra High School in the Auberry area. The Pitmans led the charge to get a school built here and that dream came true in 1976 with the opening of YHS. It was an unusual school to say the least. The buildings looked like the original Pizza Huts with few plants and trees surrounding them, and were designed without interior walls so each classroom teacher had to talk over the noise from the other classes taking place in that open concept.
Soon six-foot partitions went up but the noise level was still a problem. Ellen’s ability to be heard over the din was very useful. Students were called “learners” and teachers were “facilitators.” To say it was chaos would be an understatement. The school moved toward more traditional teaching methods and walls went up.
When Ellen was hired, she didn’t have a place to live here and hadn’t received a paycheck as yet so during her first month she drove her Ford Pinto wagon home to Atascadero each evening, accompanied by her faithful white dog, Cleo. Early each morning she drove back to Oakhurst to teach another day in all that loud chaos. Her students were assigned to write an autobiography so they could learn about themselves, and their families, and see that history was about people like them.
The students later were assigned to plan a covered wagon trek across this great land. It gave them insight into the struggles of their ancestors and the value of great planning and difficulties in making hard decisions along the trail.
Ellen coached a number of teams in different sports during her tenure. Coaches are paid but certainly not enough for the time commitment. Her teams learned fundamentals of each sport; however they also learned the value of team work, sportsmanship, commitment, and helped build community interest in the YHS sports program. Ellen taught them the Badger was an animal that never backed down. A Badger would take on a Grizzly Bear and fight to the death. Remember that the Mariposa High School mascot is a Grizzly.
Ellen has taken on the role of leading the YHS Cadet Corps. The Badger Battalion is well respected in the state and Captain Peterson is a well trained Army veteran. While serving as a teacher she enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and served her country in that capacity. Her training as a soldier serves her well in the training she offers to YHS Cadets.
The role of a high school teacher is a tough one. You serve as a teacher, mentor, friend, counselor, guide, disciplinarian, mediator, and confidant. In a small town it is rougher because teachers know the families as well as just the students and after a few years the teachers deal with the children of former students. It is quite fun but a tough balancing act as well. I’ve never have heard one single disparaging word about Ellen - not one. That says something after 40 years.
Ellen grew up outside of Lancaster in a little town called Quartz Hill. She has three brothers and one sister in their close-knit family. Her parents had the ability to see that each of the siblings were able to go in different ways that interested them. The system seems to have worked as each has been very successful in their individual endeavors.
Many Christmases ago, one brother gave her the “HS COACH” license plate that still adorns her car. Her sense of being part of a team developed in that old farm house.
As Ellen erases the board for the final time, leaves the room, and hands over the keys the era will end. Her impact won’t. The thousands of students she taught won’t forget those valuable lessons. Her teams will remember her coaching style and her Cadets will live better disciplined lives because of her.
Teachers don’t make much money compared to the champions of industry. Teachers make a difference. The little girl from Quartz Hill became quite a gem for this community and the teaching profession.
Thank you Ellen for your devotion to teaching our children for the past 40 years.