- Kalamazoo Public Schools
- Alumni Stories
This fall, when 2009 KAMSC and Kalamazoo Central High School graduate Katelyn McCarthy joined KAMSC as a math teacher, she fulfilled a dream and a promise.
“These kids give me life and being able to be back in my home district is so special to me,” said McCarthy, who is teaching information technology to freshmen in the morning and two sections of integrated math 3 (pre-calculus) for juniors.
Not that it didn’t feel a little odd for her to walk into her old classroom.“I was immediately transported back to being a scared little ninth grader and a slightly less scared 11th grader.”
And, her first staff meeting with teachers turned colleagues? She laughs. “At our first staff meeting, we did a quick shareout about how everyone’s summer was. I listened to my former teachers talk about their vacations and their hobbies and I thought, ‘Holy cow, my teachers have lives.’”
McCarthy, 30, exudes enthusiasm for teaching, which has been her dream since her first day of school.
“The first day of kindergarten, I got off the bus from Mrs. (JoAnn) Yochim’s class and told my mom, ‘When I grow up I want to be a teacher.’”
When she was getting ready for high school, McCarthy decided to apply for KAMSC in hopes that it would open scholarship opportunities for her. The fall of her freshman year, The Kalamazoo Promise was announced and she had second thoughts about KAMSC.
“I thought, ‘Well, shoot, now I have free college. Do I need to be at KAMSC?’” she said.
She decided to stay. Her mom encouraged to do a second year. By her junior year, McCarthy decided she might as well stick it out. She was glad she did, because that’s when she decided what kind of teacher she wanted to be.
“I was always a smart kid. Math has always been my favorite subject. I liked the logic of it. I liked getting a single answer and that single answer is right,” she said. “My junior year I took physics and that’s where I found math had been a great subject and I loved it, but physics answered the question of why we learn math. It opened up the whole STEM field.”
She went on to Michigan Technological University, where she majored in physics and focused her electives on education classes, following the advice of KC history teacher Richard Cahow, who told her, “You need to make sure that you really understand what you are teaching, even if that means going back to college later to get the teaching part of it.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree she began teaching and earned a master’s degree in applied science and math education from Michigan Tech. She went on to help develop the Mi-STAR science curriculum and taught at Battle Creek Lakeview High School for four years.
She still gets excited by teaching math concepts to students and helping them see the importance of the subject — beyond just getting the right answer. “STEM is everywhere, especially when you put art into it and it becomes STEAM — that covers our entire life.”
She also enjoys her role as former KAMSC student turned teacher, because it gives her a unique perspective into the academic and social challenges facing her students. McCarthy said she is a strong advocate for students maintaining active lives at KAMSC and their home schools.
“I’ll ask, ‘Do you know when homecoming is?’ You want to know about these things. You want the full high school experience,” McCarthy said. “I tell my students I don’t regret anything I did during my time in school, but I do regret the things I did not try or do.”
McCarthy and her husband live in the Valleywood neighborhood, two minutes away from her parents. She jokes that she chose Michigan Tech because it was as far away as she could get from her parents and stay in state for college, but being close to her family is very important to her now — especially with a 2-year-old and another child on the way.
Being back in Kalamazoo is also important to her as a professional who wants to repay a debt to the community that helped make her an educator.
“Ever since I left KPS and KAMSC, I said, ‘I am going to be a KPS teacher,’” she said. “I 100 percent need to pay this district and those Promise donors back for what they gave me. Because I was able to go through my undergrad without debt, I was immediately able to go into my graduate degree while I was teaching in my first job. I would not have been able to do that if I didn’t have The Promise.
“Kalamazoo and The Promise donors gave me a big promise. I made a promise right back, that ‘I will repay this. I will come back.’”