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Posted September 27, 2012

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Mara McGrail, Eldorado High School English Teacher

Mara McGrail, an English teacher at Eldorado High School, is retiring after 34 years of teaching for Albuquerque Public Schools.

A native of Massachusetts, Mara went to Hood College in Frederick, Md., and then, after two years, transferred to the University of New Hampshire in Durham, majoring in fine arts with a minor in English.

After earning her BA in 1974, Mara lived and worked in Boston for two years, then moved to Albuquerque to attend graduate school. There she received a master's degree in education and her teacher's certification in 1978.

Mara began working for APS in 1978 as a substitute teacher. Relatively new to Albuquerque, this was how she learned her way around the city. After she'd get the 6 a.m. call to sub, she'd pull out a map to find the school. There was no GPS back then.

At the beginning of 1980, Mara received a long-term position at Wilson Middle School and after three months was hired full-time by John Hazel. This was where she taught seventh grade language arts and literature for 20 years. She also team-taught a Title I language arts class with Diana Heimer for several years; sixth-grade citizenship and eighth-grade drama. During her tenure at Wilson, John Hazel and Paul Lynn were her principals, followed by Russell Goff who, after four years went to Eldorado High School. Francelle Grisholm succeeded Mr. Goff, then Tim Thomassen and Ace Trujillo. 

Mara left Wilson for Eldorado at the beginning of 2000.

During Mara’s first year at EHS, she taught sophomore English and communication skills. In 2001 the EHS Freshmen Academy was formed and from then on she taught freshmen English 9, both regular and honors classes. During her last 12 years of teaching, her principals were Russell Goff, Yvonne Garcia and Martin Sandoval…eight principals over the years!

Everyone who knows Mara knows about her artistic talent (her calligraphy is legendary). While at Wilson, Mara attended a conference where she was inspired by a teacher from Oklahoma who combined art and literature. Mara took her own ideas to Francelle Grisholm who found some money to help her get started. 

Some of Mara’s favorite lessons included studying famous artists. For example, she had students study the life of Vincent Van Gogh. The students wrote a detailed description of their own bedrooms and then drew the interior of their room based on Van Gogh's "Bedroom in Arles." After screening a documentary on Georgia O'Keeffe with students, Mara would bring live flowers into the classroom and her students used watercolors to paint enlarged flowers. They also had to write as though they were Georgia O'Keeffe collecting various objects as the artist walked through the desert. 

Mara continued to integrate the fine arts with language arts throughout her career.  When students read Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell, she taught them to weave on a chipboard loom. At EHS some of her favorite projects included having the freshmen English classes re-enact a scene from The Odyssey and creating masks for Capulet's feast. She especially loved introducing Shakespeare to freshmen through Romeo and Juliet.  The projects were fun and she enjoyed the hands-on aspect, as well as watching students' creativity emerge.

Mara said she will miss "Everything! (Well, almost everything...) I will miss my students, my fellow teachers and teaching. One thing that is great about teaching freshmen is that they come back to visit and give you hugs! You get to watch them grow up. By the time they are seniors, they have become young men and ladies. It's quite a transformation!”

She says she will not miss in-services or all the grading, especially grading research papers. Or getting up at 5:30 a.m. Mara’s colleagues will miss her.

 

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