Teacher beginning 38th year in class

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 13, 2001

Bowmar Elementary School teacher Nancy Pitchford stands on the counter in her classroom Friday to hang a banner over the sea shell learning station. The gifted and talented students use the learning station for identifying sea shells and using the projection microscope. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[08/13/01] On days like Friday, Nancy Pitchford thinks the end of her teaching career is almost as far in the future as its beginning is in the past.

Fresh from a summer trip to Ireland and anxious to meet the students she thinks know more than she does, Pitchford prepared her Bowmar Avenue Elementary classroom this week for her 38th year in public education. All but 2 1/2 of those years have been spent in Warren County schools.

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“I’m still excited,” said Pitchford, 63 and a Vicksburg native. “I can’t wait (for school to start). How can I not be when I know I’ll be seeing all those bright faces?”

Pitchford taught 2nd, 4th and 6th grades early in her career, but she’s had only gifted education classes since 1978.

Originally including only upper elementary students, the Vicksburg Warren School District’s gifted program Gifted and Talented Educational Services (GATES) now serves students from 2nd to 6th grades who score highly on individual or group IQ tests.

Pitchford was among the district’s first contingent of GATES instructors, and she taught in Reaching Out to Our Community (ROTOC), the gifted program of the Warren County School District before consolidation.

Frances Gaddis, who helped initiate ROTOC at Culkin Elementary School in the late 1970s, said Pitchford is uniquely qualified to teach above-average students.

“She’s gifted herself,” said Gaddis, now an assistant principal at Vicksburg Intermediate School. “She gets so involved with the kids and learns along with them.”

In fact, Pitchford says, the students teach her.

“They have a lot more knowledge than I’ll ever have,” she said. “I’m constantly amazed at how well these kids can write, or how much they know about computers, or how well they can draw.”

And Pitchford’s enthusiasm and influence extend beyond GATES, said Bowmar Principal Barbara Burns, who praised the “well-seasoned” teacher for her involvement with school service projects.

“She’s gung-ho for Bowmar,” said Burns, who’s known Pitchford since the latter came to the district’s only magnet school for the second time in 1989.

Pitchford also taught at Bowmar from 1964 until 1968, the second stint of her career. Before that, she spent two years at a Jackson elementary school immediately after graduating from Mississippi College.

“I only had a textbook back then,” she said, looking at the row of computers that almost fills a wall of her room. “Times have definitely changed for teachers. But it’s only made it easier for me to love my job.”

Renee Pitchford, 28 and the youngest of Nancy Pitchford’s three daughters, thinks she’ll love education, too. She will start teaching 7th-grade science Monday at Warren Central Junior High School, and she says her mother will be one of her role models.

“She loves her students, loves the material she teaches and thinks her program is really important,” said the younger Pitchford, who will also be Warren Junior’s cheerleading sponsor. “But I don’t know if I’ll make it as long as she has.”