New staff members at the Patagonia Schools. From left: Daniel Codding, Elysse Beach, Kaleigh Best, Kate Peake. not pictured – Nate Mershon. Photo by Chuck Klingenstein

Five new staff members joined the ranks of Patagonia School District in August, from kindergarten to high school agriculture and welding. The PRT finally caught up with them as they celebrated the final week of school before winter break.

Daniel Codding

Daniel Codding is not new to the District, but he is new to the formal teaching of technology. Having spent the past six years as the technology specialist, keeping computers and networks running, he saw that students could really use a better understanding of the world of tech. Though Codding never imagined he’d be a teacher, he especially loves teaching Introduction to Computers, as the material and techniques are second nature to him. And he loves working directly with students — over his 20 years as an IT specialist, the students in his schools have been pretty anonymous to him. Now he loves getting to know them. Codding is happy when his Patagonia kids learn how the technology they use every day works and what is involved in making it work.

Elysse Beach

Patagonia’s new kindergarten teacher, Elysse Beach, says that to have a class of around ten students is a teacher’s dream. “Other years when I’ve taught first or second grade in classes of 25 students, it was so hard to give each child even a few minutes of undivided attention.”

Beach knew she enjoyed working with children, so becoming an elementary teacher was a natural choice. On top of that, she comes from a long line of teachers, including her parents, grandparents and several aunts and uncles. When asked what her favorite subject is to teach, she didn’t hesitate a moment. “Taking a young child who doesn’t yet read and turning him or her into a reader is the most wonderful thing! I hope students leave my classroom with a desire to keep reading, and to read to their parents and siblings. It is really important to me, too, that they go on to first grade being excited about school, and feeling curious and open to their own creativity.”

Beach is impressed by the knowledge the local teachers have about their students: being familiar with or related in some way to their students. “It is nice how the teachers have this personal connection with their students.”

Kaleigh Best 

When she saw Patagonia for the very first time on the first day of school in August, Kaleigh Best did not find the size of our small community to be anything unusual. She grew up in San Simon, Arizona, whose school is the second smallest in Arizona. Before coming here, she worked as a paraprofessional in the agriculture program at San Simon School. A teaching position became available and “it all just fell into place.” Best is currently working to attain her teaching credentials. She has been delighted by the confidence and faith the school community and parents have shown in her in this, her first independent teaching endeavor. Best wants her students to see how important agriculture is in the world and all that goes into bringing food to our tables. 

Her favorite area of Ag/FFA has been the animal showing segments. “These are filled with opportunities for kids to make life connections out in the world—and to learn responsibility and hard work.”

Kate Peake

Kate Peake, the new middle school language arts teacher, moved to town with her family in 2017 and took some time off from teaching while her two children were young. She came back to teaching when they went to school, to continue sharing her passion for literature and the written word. She has always taught middle school, in public, private and charter school settings, and was most recently a director of curriculum and instruction. In addition to involving them in the study of her favorite books, Peake says, “There’s a powerful technique I enjoy using that immerses students in nonfiction reading – it’s a nontraditional writing exercise that encourages creative thinking and a deeper understanding of the text.

“It is important to me that students know their voice matters, and that the skills they are practicing here will take them where they want to go,” she said. “And I am so impressed by these kids; they are intelligent, thoughtful, creative, and have showed such resilience coming back to school from their pandemic year. They have been excited to move forward.”

Nate Mershon

Welding instruction is new to the District, but Nate Mershon brings many years of experience to the program. A Patagonia native, Mershon grew up learning to weld at a young age. He worked for years for the late Brent Bowden at AFT Incorporated, and now works for South32. 

Last fall he began to teach at the High School one day a week. “It takes a while for kids to get the hang of it, but when they finally run their first solid bead, the lightbulb goes on,” he said. “They know that, with that skill, they can do so much. It’s a skill that they will be able to take with them wherever they go, and get a job anywhere. It’s a great program to offer here.” 

Mershon hopes to offer advanced welding in addition to the introductory course next year and, from there, the goal is to receive accreditation. He remembers that when he was attending Patagonia schools teachers went out of their way to accommodate students’ needs for higher level classes, sometimes even creating a class of one. He hopes he can help his students learn all they can to become skilled at the trade of welding.