Leaving Home: After 35 years, Jan Petrou Says Goodbye to Winnacunnet

After 35 years, Jan Petrou Says Goodbye to Winnacunnet

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, June 5, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Jan Petrou is director of student affairs and community education at Winnacunnet High School.

For the last 35 years Jan Petrou has called Winnacunnet High School her second home.

She started as a teacher in 1974, teaching home economics for 15 years, and worked her way up to serving in the administration, overseeing student activities and the adult education program.

"I never thought I would retire at 60," Petrou said. "I feel like a student who is graduating, wondering what is next. It's scary, emotional and bittersweet all at the same time."

When I grow up

Petrou said she always knew she was going to be a teacher even as a child. She also toyed with being a foreign diplomat or even an actress.

"I always wanted to be a teacher," Petrou recalls. "I thought I was going to end up teaching foreign language or history. But you never know where the road will take you.

"I think the actress in me came out in my teaching. The classroom became my stage."

A self-proclaimed "Dover girl," Petrou graduated form Dover High School in 1967 and went on to graduate from the University of New Hampshire.

After a brief time in California with "a flower in her hair," Petrou got her first full-time teaching gig at Winnacunnet High School.

Welcome to Winnacunnet

Petrou vividly recalls her first day at WHS. "I can still feel and see the day," Petrou said. "After I walked in and the door closed behind me, it was such a wonderful feeling. Right then and there I knew I was in the right place."

Petrou admits that she wasn't much of a cook when she first took the job as the school's home economics teacher.

"True confession is that I had never even made a chocolate chip cookie on my own before taking the job," said Petrou, who is now a gourmet cook. "I learned my cooking skills as I taught. I used to go home and practice."

The biggest joy of the job, she said, was interacting with students.

Moving on up

When she was asked to take on an administrator role, Petrou said it was a difficult decision. "I always considered myself a teacher," Petrou said. "Till this day, I'm still a teacher."

Petrou said the greatest part of her administrator role was creating new programs at the high school.

Some of her biggest accomplishments include creating the Experienced Based Education Program, which became the first high school internship program in the state.

She was also behind the creation of Fresh Start, a program easing the freshman transition to high school.

She also oversaw enrichment programs for students and the community at large.

"When creating and building a program, it's like a 'field of dreams,'" Petrou said. "If you build it, they will come. That is what it is and has been my entire career."

Over the years, Petrou was been given more duties and responsibilities including running the Adult Education Program.

Up until this year, she oversaw all the student activities and student council. Petrou said she is most proud of the revamping of the student council. While students are still elected to the council, students are appointed to serve, via an application process.

The good and the bad

Petrou said she has a lot of good memories that she will keep forever.

But with the good comes the bad.

"The saddest part of teaching is when we lose a student," Petrou said. "It's just incredible and we have lost many. You never forget them."

The best part is seeing former students excel.

"I still hear from former students of mine," Petrou said. "And a couple of years ago, I started seeing students from my parents who were my former students."

Emotional goodbye

Petrou said the last few days at the school will be very emotional.

"Everyone thinks 'Hey I can't wait to retire,'" Petrou said. "Then all of sudden its here... It's different. I wonder what I'm going to do for the rest of my life."

While Petrou has been asked to stay on as a part-time administrator overseeing the Adult Education Program, she has yet to make a decision. "I'm keeping everything open right now," she said. "When you close one chapter and open another one, you have to really think things out.

I have to say I truly love Winnacunnet. It's been a great journey for me and I'm glad I decided to take this path."