Gathering A Lifetime Of Lessons

By John Pedler

Hampton Union, Friday, June 5, 2004

Karen Weinhold, an eight-grade teacher at North Hampton School, leads her class in an annual rite of passage into high school -- desk dancing. Weinhold, who has been joining her students on top of desks for nearly 30 years, is retiring at the end of this school year.
[Photo by Jay Reiter]

After a "ba-zillion" years, Karen Weinhold will retire from teaching eighth grade at North Hampton School at the end of the year. She has been teaching for 36 years, 28 of them at NHS. Her last day is June 21, "but who's counting?" she asked.

It is "the daily interactions with students and staff" she will miss most, she said, "and the chance to make a difference in someone's life."

Her lasting memories include watching students lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which four had the opportunity to do last month on a trip to Washington. She will also cherish simply "seeing eyes light up when an epiphany strikes."

She began her career at Wellesley Junior High School with a salary of $5,000. Every student in her initial seventh-grade class came to her wedding.

She relocated to Winnacunnet High School in 1967, during a tumultuous period when "we had bomb scares all the time," she said. "We spent more time outside than in the classroom."

In 1972, she took time off to have children but hated not working, and returned to the classroom at Hampton Junior High in February 1974 as a long-term substitute. In September 1976, she began her tenure at NHS.

In 1990-1991, she was the teacher-in-residence at the University of New Hampshire, where she taught graduate and high-level undergraduate education courses and supervised nine interns. She also published a book with two other teachers and has written articles for other books on education.

She has seen multiple generations of Seacoast residents pass through her classes. "The scary part is," she said, "I'm getting the children of the children of those I had at Winnacunnet in the '60s."

Weinhold has run the school's popular oratorical program since its founder, Wayne Elliot, retired in 1989. She helps each student prepare a topical speech, the top 10 of which are performed by the writers at an evening competition before an audience of parents and teachers.

She noted that in her time as an educator, the standard approach to teaching has changed. "It went from a teacher-centered classroom to a child-centered classroom," in which teachers are expected to deliver instruction tailored to students' individual needs, she said.

She finds this approach "much more humane" and noted that "if kids are engaged with the material and it's accessible to them, then you don't have behavior problems."

She noted that many students continue to work in areas first discovered at NHS. Her former students have spread far and wide. One young man, about whom Weinhold wrote in an article she published, currently serves in Baghdad as a liaison between the U.S. military and local citizens. Another works in Sen. Judd Gregg's office. Another works with Holocaust survivors through the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

"Who would think that we have so many graduates from our school doing things that they started learning here?" she said. The D.C. connections have come in handy during the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, which Weinhold, of course, has participated in each year.

A community reception will be held for Weinhold on June 13. "I would very much like for former students to come back," she said, adding that she still has 30 years of accumulated projects and portfolios created by her students that she would like to return. "What do you do with a lifetime of stuff?" she asked.

Weinhold will miss NHS, which she said is "an amazing place to work." She added however that "my kids are taking bets that I'm not really going to (retire)."

The Sunday, June 13, reception will be held 1-3 p.m. at NHS.