Alumni see changes

Comparing student and teacher viewpoints


Mia Destefano

Reminiscing. Before the new building was built, the old B building was where students attended.

Jayla Nartatez, Reporter

Over the years, Altoona has experienced change with the new building and other advancements.  Alumni, who are now teachers, express their opinions on differences in the school and reflect on their time teaching at a place where they were once a student. 

A more recent graduate, Courtney Detwiler, graduated in 2016 and is currently a special education teacher at the school. During her time as a student, Detwiler struggled with pressure as both of her parents are teachers, but for her things have changed since she is now a teacher. 

“School was very different for me as a student. I felt the need to be perfect all the time. Both of my parents are teachers, and they knew all the other teachers. I was always terrified to get in trouble, and I felt that I was always being watched by everyone,” C. Detwiler said. “Now I feel like I don’t have to be perfect all the time. I am learning with my students. I feel more relaxed at school, and I have learned how to have fun during the school day.”

When health teacher Amy Palfey attended Altoona, she and her peers would communicate through having discussions in the halls and passing notes, but now students converse through messaging using technology.

“One of the biggest challenges I feel would be with students not getting along.  In the past if someone was bothering you, you could go home and leave it at school. Now with social media, that conflict could follow you wherever you go and not give you the time and space away from the situation,” Palfey said. “I also feel that communication skills have declined over time for all of us. The ability to read body language, be an active listener and clearly state what you mean are very important skills to have .”

Remembering when she was in high school, Palfey reflects on some of the major changes and even new additions to the school environment.

“I feel like the environment changed in ways that society has changed.  For example, we did not have to have clear backpacks or walk through security for school or go to a concert or athletic event in an arena.  Today with security and safety needed due to societal changes, the school environment had to change and measures to ensure safety had to change.  For the physical school environment of the classroom, the desks from back in the day were all one piece and uncomfortable, but today you have wheels on your chairs.  We had chalkboards and not the whiteboards that you see today,” Palfey said.

As music teacher Kelly Detwiler graduated in 1985, her education was received through lectures and homework teachers gave as technology was not a part of her school experience. As Detwiler is a teacher today, she realizes the changes that have been made with technology and learns new things every year through research within her teaching subject. 

“Things were very strict, and you conformed.  Everyone was taught the same way and that was the way it was.  I feel teachers and students are much more open minded today and try to find the best ways to teach to every individual student and learning style,” K. Detwiler said.

When C. Detwiler was a student, she had to write essays and do most of her work by hand, but now students have access to other materials and according to her, students today are being taught through more interactive activities rather than through lectures.   

“The school itself is a beautiful area and so much better than when I was here. The technology also is a huge aid. I remember carrying my books and notebooks because all we had was paper and pencil. I had a COW (computers on wheels) that we were able to use every once in a while. I would have to wait until I was at home to type an essay or look online. Lots of times, I would have to hand write my final essays in pen,” C. Detwiler said. 

Journalism teacher Wanda Vanish also attended first Roosevelt Junior High and then the high school.

“I was on the newspaper staff at the junior high and so appreciate the way technology evolved to allow student journalists to be autonomous.,” Vanish said.  “When I was on staff, we typed our articles and glued them on papers and sent them off with printed photos for a professional to create a final newspaper product.  Now students are involved in the creations of the newspaper and yearbook from start to finish.”

According to Palfey, she wishes she could have had some of the resources and opportunities that students now have, such as electives and other elements that make up the school. 

“I think that navigating the two buildings is slightly more difficult than when I went to AAHS.  Although the old bridge was narrower than the new one, we still made it to class on time.  Many of the courses that are offered were not offered when I went here as well. For example, Intro to Guitar, Intro to Piano, Robotic Engineering, Speciality Fashion, Food Challenges, Multicultural Foods, Computer Animations, just to name a few.  We had great electives but as education changed so have the course offerings.  I think it allows the students to explore their talents and interests,” Palfey said.

Walking the halls of a school she once attended allows K. Detwiler to feel certain emotions.

“I am proud of the education I received here, and I am proud of our hometown.  I feel like I can really relate to the school and the students because this is how I grew up.  I experienced everything the students are experiencing and I can relate.  I think that’s what makes it work for me.  I am not an outsider looking in,” K.Detwiler said.

While in high school, Vanish participated in the music program and reflects on the new establishments made within the department. 

“I was also involved in the music program.  The new auditorium is fantastic as well as the music rooms.  I am so happy that these programs are still offered.  But some traditions remain as with the district, regional and state music performances.  One of my best memories is performing at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, and I will always remember traveling to the regional events to stay with host families,”  Vanish said.

Being a former student and now a teacher has given Palfey the opportunity to think about previous experiences and make new connections as she is still a part of the school.

“It is neat to think about the memories I made when I was here and to reflect on how it felt when I was sitting in some of the very classrooms that our current students sit in.  It allows me to empathize with my students and hopefully help them navigate these years of their lives,” Palfey said.