Meet your Riverside Healthful Living Department!

Michael Whitfield, Department Chair:

26 years ago, Michael Whitfield was looking for a part time job. An old friend from college told him Riverside needed substitute teachers, so he gave it a try. 

Since then, Whitfield has done everything from sub to coach baseball. He’s taught health and PE, run Riverside’s driver’s ed program and served as an assistant athletic director. 

He wants to be the type of coach and teacher that helps students. 

“I had a teacher and a coach who took interest in me at a time in my life when I was struggling with some things,” Whitfield said. “It made an imprint on me.” 

One of his side hobbies is playing golf. 

“It would be a dream trip to spend two weeks and play some of the old courses,” Whitfield said.

Now 52 years old, he’s not ready to retire quite yet. 

“I plan to retire at least five years from now…I hope I still want to teach five years from now.”

Eliniyah Black:

From the basketball court to the classroom, Eliniya Black’s passion never wavered. 

Shaped by her background as a collegiate and professional basketball player, she inspires others to pursue the same. 

Black attended Warren Wilson college where she played on the collegiate level before playing semi-professionally in Tampa.

Not only is this her first year at Riverside, it is her first year teaching overall. In addition to her role as a Health, PE and Combination Sports teacher, she is the assistant women’s basketball coach.

Her passion, however, extends beyond teaching.

“I put all my dreams to action. I have plans. I have goals.”

Black plans to someday open a massage salon for athletes.

“I think everyone is an athlete at heart,” she said, adding that she wants the salon to be open to all who need it.

When she isn’t working, Black uses her time to travel.

“I love learning about new cultures and being around new people and environments.” 

A native Durhamite, Black saw no better place to settle after college than her own hometown. Although she now teaches at Riverside, she attended Northern.

“It’s kind of funny being on the opposite end,” she said.

Craig Daye:

After traveling the world through the military, Craig Daye was ready to settle down and pursue a career of teaching in Durham.

He has lived in Durham for his whole life, including his college years at North Carolina Central University.

“It’s always been home to me,” he said.

Daye began teaching in 2011, though it is only his second year at Riverside. Largely inspired by his mother, he is passionate about working with young people.

“My mom was in Durham Public Schools, too,” he said. “She was the blueprint.”

Although he has found his niche in teaching health and PE, combination sports and weight training, his talents have changed greatly since his days as a student athlete. Daye played one year of football in middle school and was cut from his high school basketball team twice.

He is now dedicated to motivating young athletes and helping students be active. 

Daye has also recently found a love for golf. 

“I have a bucket list of places I want to play,” he said. He also wants to spend time traveling with his wife when his teaching days are over.

Daye is grateful for his health, being a good father to his kids and getting to follow his passion by being a teacher and a coach.

Robert Duncan:

From macaroni and cheese casseroles to anything grilled, Robert Duncan has always loved to cook. But when he realized he would have to choose between culinary school and college football, he had no doubt which was the right path.

When the time came to move away from his home in Winston-Salem, he chose to attend North Carolina A&T University on a full athletic scholarship, before transferring to North Carolina Central University in 2003.

He began working at Riverside in 2007 where he teaches Health and PE, Combination Sports and Weight Training.

“It was never really my personal first plan…but it made sense for me to be able to coach.”

A family man at heart, Duncan values nothing above his relatives.

“I have a very tight knit group of family members,” he said. “I’m the oldest of seven grandkids so I was the first to do a lot of different things…it was very important for me to help set an example for everybody.”

After visiting family in the Bahamas, Duncan dreams of moving to an island long-term.

“I’d love to be able to see what the culture is like on a more realistic level rather than just being a vacationer.” 

Bryan Hurdle:

Through his experience working for his family’s garbage collecting business, Bryan Hurdle learned the value of hard work. This background gave him a lens through which to appreciate his role at Riverside.

“If I wasn’t at Riverside I would be a garbage man,” Hurdle said. “I appreciate being able to come to Riverside everyday and mentoring youth and establishing the relationships that I have with my students.”

But it wasn’t until he observed his wife’s classroom that Hurdle decided to become a teacher.

“I volunteered in her classroom and fell in love with her Kindergarten class,” he said. “It changed my life. It made me want to be an educator as well.”

Hurdle never strayed far from his hometown of Raleigh. Even after attending North Carolina Central University and then North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, he remained in the area.

He has been teaching for 17 years, two of which were at Riverside where he teaches Physical Education, Health, Weight Training and Driver’s Education. In addition, he coaches football and baseball.

To Hurdle, family means more than blood. 

“I love my Riverside family,” he said. “I love being a pirate. I love my students. I’m proud to be a pirate.”

Beyond Riverside, Hurdle dreams of visiting Hawaii someday.

“I love to travel and we never as a family have the opportunity or time to because of my coaching. It’s one of the destinations that I want to mark off.”

Jason Smoots:

Although he considers himself shy at heart, Jason Smoots has been pursuing his passion for giving back to young people by teaching high school for 10 years.  

Originally from Alabama, Smoots was an athlete himself as a teen. He ran track, mostly honing in on the 100 meter sprint. 

Durham didn’t become the place he called home until 1998, when he attended North Carolina Central University.

He was inspired by teachers from his youth to pursue a career in education, and to “help high school students make it to the next level… college.”

His dream job, however, looks a bit different.

Smoots hopes to one day open his own sports facility or training complex. Though he has not yet taken any concrete steps toward this goal, he has a plan. 

“Let’s just say I have a blueprint,” he said. 

For now, his focus lies within the health and PE classes and the weight training classes he has been teaching at Riverside for the past four years. 

When thinking of gratitude, Smoots immediately thinks back to this job. 

“Being alive,” he said. “Being healthy. Being in my right mind. And being able to help young people.”

Erin Samuels:

As the sports medicine teacher at Riverside, Erin Samuels values all students’ safety.

“I want to put a good influence on kids’ lives,” Samuels said.

Samuels hopes that the new school rules will help keep kids out of trouble and away from serious injury.

She has lived in Durham for her entire life. She became a sports med teacher because she liked the athletics training staff when she attended Riverside as a student. This is her second year teaching at Riverside

“I wanted to come back and be able to give back to this community,” she said.

She enjoys traveling and likes to hike because it helps her find serenity. 

“It’s a way to still be active but get away from the hustle of everything,” Samuels said.

The Hook’s teacher profile series is posted individually on our Instagram @thepirateshook and by department on our website. Stay tuned for the Science department next…

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