August 31, 2005 - Passing Jennifer Atteberry-Pierpont in the hallways of Canyon Del Oro High School, it is easy to mistake her for a student. Her youthful energy, vibrant personality and bright smile make her blend into a sea of students. Maybe that is one of the reasons this 24-year-old was recognized as being one of the best and brightest newcomers to the teaching profession.
The Tucson native was awarded the Family and Consumer Sciences Education Outstanding New Teacher of the Year award for 2005 from the Arizona Department of Education.
Each year, the department of education's Department of Family and Consumer Science Education selects one outstanding new teacher from the state of Arizona, and, in 2005, Atteberry-Pierpont was it.
To qualify for the award, the teacher must be nominated and be in the first two years of teaching.
Atteberry-Pierpont said she was stunned when she got the phone call that she had won. She never expected to be honored for doing a job that she loved, she said.
This year, as she begins her second year of teaching, she is at home in the hallways of CDO, as she should be. She went to high school there and completed her student teaching requirements from the University of Arizona.
After graduating from the UA, she was offered a job teaching in Phoenix but turned it down to teach on her home turf.
"This just makes sense," Atteberry-Pierpont said.
She may be young, but she is no rookie. Atteberry-Pierpont took over the family and consumer science program at CDO. She is now in charge of teaching students in courses such as early childhood development and Life 101, where students learn basic communication skills, leadership and nutrition. She also supervises the preschool, where district employee's children are cared for. Atteberry-Pierpont's more advanced students take turns creating lesson plans and caring for the preschool children.
For Atteberry-Pierpont, it is all just a normal day's work.
"I know I work really hard," she said, but added, "I love what I do."
And the students love her. Ashley Prall, 17, said Atteberry-Pierpont is more than a teacher. She is a friend.
"We can tell her anything," Prall said, adding that she wanted to be a pediatrician before taking Atteberry-Pierpont's class but she soon became inspired and is now studying for a career as a second grade teacher.
"She teaches us a lot," Prall said, both about school subjects and "a lot about life."
It is her relationship with the students and her ability to relate to them that is partly what makes Atteberry-Pierpont so successful, said CDO Principal Michael Gemma.
"She's a real go-getter," he said. "We're thrilled to have her."
Another Amphitheater Public Schools teacher is being honored for her contribution to students' lives: Gail Toal, career and technical department chair and teacher at Ironwood Ridge High School.
Toal was honored with the Educator of the Year Award from the Arizona Marketing Educators of Arizona.
She, too, had to be nominated by her peers for the award. Receiving the award also made Toal eligible for the Arizona Career and Technical Education Educator of the Year award for 2005-06 as well as the Marketing Educators of America National Award for 2006, which she will find out about later this year.
Toal has been in the Amphi district for 29 years. She taught at Amphitheater High School and began the program at Ironwood Ridge when it opened in 2001.
At first glance, it is easy to see Toal was born to be a teacher. Her warm smile and gentle handshake ease away any anxiety one may have. Her office is filled with cards, posters, gifts from past students and tons of memories. And then there is the recliner. It's a big worn, fluffy recliner where student after student has sat and shared anything that happened to be on the mind, Toal said.
"Momma Toal," as her students call her, sits quietly in her office lending an open ear to any student who needs one, and for Toal, it is all just part of her job.
"Each one of them gives my life more meaning," she said, adding that her office and classroom are "safe places."
No one knows that safety nest more than Renee Holten, 19, a student of "Momma Toal."
"Everything she does, she makes you feel like it's just for you," Holten said. "At that period, at that moment in that class, she's your mom."
Holten is in Toal's advanced marketing class. She said she has learned a lot from the woman she admires.
"I have nothing but good things to say about her," she said. "I love her."