Editor’s note: a previously published version of this story included the incorrect job title for CTE curriculum and instructional management coordinator & department chair Priscilla Graves.
Conner Bolen is a native to Riverside High School
He attended all four years of high school at Riverside, and came back to teach as soon as he could.
”My favorite thing about Riverside when I was a student here was the teachers,” Bolen said.
As a member of the varsity lacrosse team and as an eagle scout, Bolen knew he had the leadership it took to be a teacher, so he decided to pursue it in college.
“I went off to college and found out about technology and engineering design education and fell in love,” Bolen said.
Now, he is in his sixth year at Riverside, and drives an hour every day just to teach.
“I no longer live in Durham because I can’t afford housing so now I live in Clayton,” he said.
The long drive isn’t a problem for Bolen, though, as he spends the time entertaining himself.
“Sometimes I listen to podcasts on the way to Riverside because it’s an hour, and sometimes I just throw on recent songs I’ve liked, which have been a lot of songs stuck in my head from TikTok,“ he said. “If you can believe it, I was actually singing and rapping to the Billie Eilish song from TikTok this morning”
Fenale Brandon is a Career and Technical Education teacher.
Despite having taught child development for 18 years at Riverside, Brandon still has dreams of becoming a designer.
“If I ever get to New York I want to be a fashion designer and I want to design a wedding dress where you can take the train off of it and you can wear it for more than just your wedding day,” she said. “I didn’t become one though because I didn’t want to move away from this area.”
After living in Durham her whole life and attending Northern High school, Brandon has fallen in love with the city.
Brandon is very excited for this school year. She now teaches a Mental Health and Counseling class rather than Child Development and already loves all her students.
Sheena Brooks, Career and Development Coordinator:
As the Career Development Coordinator, Sheena Brooks has fulfilled her lifelong dream of being a teacher.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, even when I was a little kid,” Brooks said.
She oversees all the career and technical education teachers, students, and classes.
“My main job is to support all the career and technical education teachers and students in the building,” Brooks said.
The main way she does this is by helping students decide what to do after high school.
“If I meet with students and we have a conversation, I can definitely offer resources,” she said. “And one thing I can do is have you think about what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at.”
After living in Durham and teaching at Riverside since 2003, Brooks has seen all sides of the school.
“My favorite thing [is] the diversity between students and staff,” Brooks said.
However, she is concerned about the new school year.
“[I’m feeling] good; we do have some challenges and I am concerned about the teacher shortage,” Brooks said.
Priscilla Graves, Curriculum and Instructional Management Coordinator & Department Chair
Priscilla Graves is in her second year at Riverside as the Career and Technical Education curriculum and instruction management coordinator (CIMC).
Graves was a tenure-track faculty member teaching finance at University of Maryland before coming to Riverside.
She moved back to North Carolina to be closer to family. Both her brother and her mother have passed away, which was very difficult for Graves.
“My brother got sick with cancer, I took care of him,” she said. “He died two years later, then my mom got sick and she passed away a year and a half ago.”
As a CIMC, Graves conducts observations in classrooms, takes notes, and meets with teachers one on one to see their thoughts and comments. She provides different resources to teachers, and makes sure they are succeeding in their job.
Graves’ favorite thing about Riverside is being able to speak to students even though she does not teach anymore.
“In the hallways I talk to them,” she said. “If I see that they are sad I’m like ‘what’s wrong baby, how can I help.’ If they are happy, I’m happy with them. I find positive comments and share them.”
The most challenging part of Graves’ day is seeing teachers with low enthusiasm.
“It really bothers me,” Graves said. “Even when my brother was dying of cancer I worked every day of the week. My students would ask me [why] are you still here, and I would say ‘well you need me to, so yeah.’”
Douglas Hervey didn’t always see himself becoming a teacher.
He started his life after Auburn University as an architect. This job was unstable though and would constantly fluctuate with the economy.
Tired of losing jobs and tired of a field filled with “almost all white men” that had a “very cut throat environment” as Hervey says, he followed in his parents footsteps and started looking for a job in education.
“My wife actually handed me a flier for a special needs teacher at Riverside so I went in to see what the process for applying for a job was like,” said Hervey.
He then applied for a CTE job and “as soon as they saw architect written on my resume it was moved to the top of the pile,” he said.
Ever since his first year at Riverside, Hervey found a love for the sports and classes with many different grade levels and types of students that keep him on his toes. Currently in his 7th year at Riverside, Hervey still has a tremendous amount of appreciation for these things.
Laurie Henry teaches Entrepreneurship 1 and Entrepreneurship 2 Honors. Originally from Philadelphia, she has lived in Durham for over 14 years.
This is her first year teaching at Riverside, but her sixth year teaching overall.
“I enjoy working with students one on one on projects and hearing what’s inside their brains,” said Henry. “I’m really enjoying my experience here at Riverside.”
Henry always wanted to be a teacher or an accountant, and found that teaching entrepreneurship was a way to combine her passions.
Before coming to Riverside, Teresa Mugeni-Wilson taught middle school in Wake County. She came to Riverside to experience something different.
This year marks Mugeni-Wilson’s 18th year at Riverside, and school pride and spirit has kept her here for so long.
“Teachers and students were so proud of being a Pirate,” Mugeni-Wilson said. “It spoke to me. There is a lot of cohesiveness with the students.”
Though she still believes Riverside’s pride is strong, Mugeni-Wilson cannot help but wonder what school would be like if it wasn’t affected by COVID.
“We lost a lot with COVID. There are students coming into Riverside who have not been in a school building,” she said. “They lost that school culture. We have it upon our seniors to kind of remind the underclassmen.”
Mugeni-Wilson is still optimistic about Riverside’s school culture and spirit.
“Our football team has so much promise, which is also what school spirit can come from,” she said.
William Oakley teaches intro to engineering design and principles of engineering.
“I came over to Riverside because of the fantastic engineering program that they’ve got over here and I wanted to help contribute to it,” Oakley said. “I heard about [the engineering program] through the grapevine from other employees and students. I was just curious about it, so I met up with Tim Velegol and one thing led to another.”
Oakley lived in Texas for most of his life and worked as a teacher there. About 5 years ago, he moved to Durham.
Before being at Riverside, he taught at The School of Creative Studies for a couple of years.
If his house were to catch on fire, Oakley would save his dog Zeus first, who he’s had for nine years.
His favorite thing about Riverside? Lenny the Pirate.
“I definitely love our mascot,” Oakley said.
“I can’t wait to see how the kids do on their automata projects, it’s a giant huge final project that they’ll have a lot of fun with,” he said.
Career and Technical Education teacher Ryan Patridge has spent his life in many different places, such as Connecticut, Illinois, and San Diego, working for Motorola.
”For me, the first years of my job were working in cubicles,” said Patridge. “I hated life, so I took my job to San Diego.”
Patridge spent his days working virtually and enjoying life.
“I would play basketball and get fish tacos over lunch,” he said.
Despite his great lifestyle, he applied for a job at Duke and ended up at Riverside instead.
“I was lucky to not get the job at Duke because this is a fantastic place,” Patridge said. “And even though I get paid less than I would have at Duke, that doesn’t bother me.”
At Riverside, he teaches the PLTW classes: Cybersecurity, Computer Science Essentials, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing.
Patridge is ecstatic for the upcoming year and can’t wait to implement his many new ideas, such as ungrading.
“The point is to take the focus off of grades, and to give students the ability to assess themselves for their own work and have their selected grades be their given grades,” he said. “It is to turn the process of completing work from extrinsic motivation to just wanting to learn the material.”
David Robinson has been at Riverside for 5 years.
He has experience teaching many different classes. He is currently teaching drafting one, and architecture two and three. Robinson, however, has previously taught engineering drafting, digital design one, and animation two.
Robinson is a New York City native, and has also lived in Detroit, Michigan. He went to college at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
12 years ago, Robinson returned to North Carolina, working as an architectural engineer and industrial designer.
He is looking forward to the students this school year.
“I’m hoping to bring them some quality experiences, [with] some technology and new things we got,” Robinson said. “We’re just hoping they grasp it and fly with it.”
Seth Stallings has been teaching at Riverside for 11 years and currently teaches digital electronics and civil engineering & architecture.
“I started teaching because the business that I had for many years tanked during the recession of 2008,” Stallings said.
His business did subdivisions and designed roads.
After his business career, he went to a job counselor and though he had the option to continue his business, his wife had a good job in Durham and he saw an opportunity as a teacher.
Stallings has lived in North Carolina his whole life and attended J.F. Webb High School in Oxford, NC.
His favorite thing about Riverside is the engineering program and digital electronics is his favorite class in the program.
“People are getting their swing back about participating outside, things are beginning to open up for sports and field trips,” he said.
Russell Strand-Poole not only teaches computer science at Riverside, but also teaches other people how to teach it.
Strand-Poole teaches Computer Science Principles and Computer Science Applications, but is also certified to teach Computer Science Essentials and Cyber Security.
Although Strand-Poole can’t see himself doing anything but engineering now, he used to see himself doing nothing of the sort.
He went to DSA for highschool and took part in the many music electives they offer. His first teaching job was teaching music at Little River Elementary. He helped out with the IT department there and found his passion for engineering.
From there, he made his way to Riverside.
“My favorite thing about this school is the engineering program and the students of course,” Strand-Poole said. “I’m most excited to see where my students go to college”
Although he just started with engineering about five years ago, Strand-Poole was actually called by the governor’s office to help write the state code for computer science.
It’s not his business degree, masters in teaching, or 21 years of experience at Riverside that make William Swanson interesting.
Swanson hides his big personality (his nightly routine includes signing himself to sleep to Metallica songs) and never-ending stories (he has a detailed plan to push his family heirloom piano through the wall in case of a fire), in an obscure classroom off the engineering hallway.
Despite rarely leaving his room, 162B, Swanson says he has lots of school spirit.
“Riverside is full of exciting and new things but not in the way you’d think,” he said.
He even has an idea for a Riverside fight song with the lyrics “fight fight fight” that can be chanted at sporting events.
While he seems to have his life figured out, Swanson’s not sure what lies on the other side, but thinks the matrix has something to do with it.
“How do we know we’re going to die?” Swanson said. “How do we know we aren’t dead yet? It’s the matrix.”
Career and Technical Education teacher Adam Tokonitz has been involved in engineering ever since high school.
He was in the PLTW program at Richlands High School, went to NC State to study engineering for college, and now teaches engineering at Riverside.
“I wanted to be an engineer but I found out real quick I was a bad engineer,” said Tokonitz. “But I found out that NC State had an engineering program for education and I discovered that I could teach PLTW in that program.”
“I saw students taught at Riverside and impressed Principal Williams so much that she hired me the next day, and that’s how the story goes,” he said.
Tokonitz has been at Riverside for four years and his favorite part is the school spirit and support groups.
He drives 40 minutes one way just to teach here and plans to keep doing so.
“We are still rebounding from a pandemic, but we have done so many great things already and are getting back to the normal that is Riverside,” Tokonitz said.
“I am excited for anything and everything from sporting events to end of year field trips,” he said.
Tokonitz does want to travel around, though, and not just stay in Durham all year long.
“I want to go see the Grand Canyon, I’ve never been out of the east coast of the US,” he said. “I want to go see the world.”
Celana Turner is overjoyed to be continuing her childhood dream of becoming a teacher.
She was born and raised in Cumberland County, NC, attended college at Winston Salem and got her masters at NCCU.
Because the CTE curriculum specialist was looking for someone with a business degree, the Riverside job fell right into her lap.
This is her first year at Riverside, and she had nothing but a positive attitude.
“Things are starting out really really well and I hope they end that way,” she said.
Turner is ecstatic to be part of the family culture that Riverside offers.
“Dr. Woods Weeks pulls everyone together and that’s even from me just being here for 5 days,” she said.
With a 30 year old daughter, a 20 year old son, and a nine year old grandkid, family is very important to her. It’s one of the things in life she is most grateful for.
Besides being grateful for her family, Turner is also thankful for being here.
“I am a cancer survivor for 6 years, breast cancer,” she said. ”So I am grateful that I am still here.”
Tim Velegol, Engineering Program Director:
From Paris to Montreal to all across the East Coast, Tim Velegol has lived all over. But out of everywhere he has been, he likes Durham the most.
“The reason I moved here is because I love Durham,” Velegol said. “My favorite metropolis of all the ones I’ve ever been to is still Montreal. I love it but it’s too cold up there so I’d say Durham is my favorite.”
After retiring from working as a NASA subcontractor, Tim Velegol planned to take a year of retirement, but when he heard that Riverside was searching for an engineering teacher, he applied instantly.
“The principal interviewed me and he was so desperate that within 5 minutes he hired me,” he said.
Velegol began teaching in August 2006 before becoming the Engineering Program Director. He does everything from overseeing the program, to setting up events, to advising students.
“My favorite thing about Riverside is that it is a large public high school like I went to when I was growing up that is extremely diverse and serves an incredibly broad spectrum of students,” he said.
Velegol is excited to see Riverside return to normal post covid.
“We managed to get ourselves back up and running doing the things that we were originally doing,” he said. “Like all the events we used to do in the Engineering program: all the field trips, the Senior interviews, the junior interviews, and the assemblies.”