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Teacher of the Year

Pete Holloway has been named the Arizona juvenile detention educator of the year. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Jake Bacon

Wherever Pete Holloway has been, he's found that he was a product of his environment.

As a soldier, a Hotshot firefighter, a construction worker and now a teacher, he said if he's done well, it was because of those around him. That's how he credited his recent honor as Arizona's juvenile detention educator of the year.

"I just reflect the people that are around me," he said. "I've been like that ever since I was a kid."

His award was for his work inside the Coconino County juvenile detention facility, a public school unlike most others. As part of Coconino County's alternative education school district, he provides compulsory, in-house education for in-custody offenders from ages 8-17. Student turnover is high and their abilities vary widely -- some are academically gifted, while others have profound learning disabilities.

Holloway's subjects are math and science, although he embraces integrated team-teaching with his English and social studies counterpart. He also credits his administrators and the "youth care workers" who provide security and act as classroom aides.

"You know those old movies where you see the Vikings or the Greeks and they're all rowing the boat together with one guy on top beating the drum to keep the beat?" he said. "That's my workplace philosophy. We're all rowing this boat together."

HE FOUND HIS NICHE

Young offenders spend between two and three weeks at a time in custody, so classroom rosters are constantly fluctuating. The two classrooms are situated in controlled-access pods of cells with a security booth on the other side of glass walls. School inside the juvenile facility is year-round, with only two weeks off in the summer. Special needs are common and when offenders return, they can be frazzled by the drugs or other bad decisions that brought them back. It's not a setting for every teacher.

Holloway started in traditional public education about 12 years ago and has been in detention education for about four years. This is his niche, and he encourages young teachers to find the school that best fits their personality, the way this one fits his.

He relates to these kids' unfiltered personalities and understands that they would rather do a hands-on exercise than listen to more than a few minutes of lecture. With small class sizes -- relatively big right now at 14, as summer can be a time when youth find trouble -- he can give a lot of one-on-one attention and tailor instruction to the strength everyone has in spite of other challenges. If they blurt out that something "sucks," he doesn't take it personally -- they're probably just frustrated because they've been reminded of a weakness.

"These kids are blunt, they're honest. To some people they would be considered abrasive and maybe, I don't want to say anti-social, but unpolished," he said. "But when you get past that, these kids are awesome and they all have skills."

The Arizona Supreme Court's juvenile justice services division took Holloway's nomination from county schools superintendent Robert Kelty and Dave Roth, who oversees the county alternative education programs. He picked up his trophy in May.

Teaching in a detention facility is easy in a way, Holloway said -- there, students have their basic needs met. They have shelter and regular meals and clean clothes. They're not distracted by scraping by.

Holloway said his students credit their academic successes to the people who helped them. But this is where he puts it back on the students and their own inner fortitude and drive. He's been around long enough now to see some of his former students become adults with jobs and children, sober and attending community college.

"One of my priorities is when they leave here I want them to know that they're capable of learning."

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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