By Linda Kor–
Another school year is coming to a close. For some students and teachers, it’ll be a much longed for break, while for other students it will be moving on to a new life of college and careers. For Dean McNamee, it will bring to a close 44 years of educating and encouraging youth to make the most of their future.
McNamee began his teaching career 44 years ago teaching English at an inner city school in Racine, Wis., opening his eyes to a whole new world.
“I’m an Iowa farm boy, so that was a fantastic experience. I really loved it. I loved the challenge and the honesty of the kids,” recalled McNamee.
He earned his degree in counseling in 1972, then received his master’s in guidance counseling. Looking for a change of environment that provided a seasonal change of weather, McNamee decided to give Arizona a try. He went to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Keams Canyon for 19 years, then in Dilcon for 10 more. When his friend Ben Wade became principal of Holbrook High School, he recruited McNamee to make the change and he has been there ever since.
He taught English for awhile and counseled students. In 1997 he began the Phenix School as an alternative means of education for students whose circumstances prevent them from being able to attend the main HHS campus. After working with students there for a number of years, he went back the high school and focused on helping students discover who and where they wanted to be once they graduated.
McNamee was instrumental in working with the Holbrook Elks Lodge to ensure that students apply and stay on track to receive scholarships. During the last Elks Youth Banquet, McNamee was honored with the High School Best Counselor Dude award, and was commended for his efforts that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid in scholarships to Holbrook youth.
If last year’s track record of success is anything to go by, then the impact of McNamee’s love and encouragement to students definitely pays off. Of the 145 graduates from the Class of 2010, 95 students went on to a two-year college, 17 went on to a university, six went to a vocational school and seven went into the military. Of the remaining 20, three of them chose to care for loved ones in need and postponed their advanced education until a later date.
McNamee doesn’t just talk to the students about where they can go with their future and how they can finance it. He also counsels students who have personal struggles. His has gone beyond the scope of the job to include a sincere love for his students and a desire that they make the most of their future.
“The students are the best part and the interaction with the parents. You always want to get parents on your side, and that’s just by being polite and courteous,” he noted.
McNamee counseled at the junior high for several years before moving on to the high school, and has watched many students grow through the years.
“I really love the junior high kids. They are like a lump of clay that just needs to be molded the right way. The high school kids, they need focus and direction,” stated McNamee.
He keeps a log of the students, beginning when they enter high school and continuing to when they graduate in order to monitor their changes in direction and make sure they stay on a path best suited for their needs. When students begin to show a lack of interest, he lets them know he’s still pulling for them. “I stay on their case,” he said, “and if they talk about not going on to college I ask, did you win the lottery?”
When it comes to career choices, McNamee has heard them all. He never discourages students from their dreams, but does try to keep their feet on the ground.
“School’s expensive and you don’t want to go into debt when you’re just starting out. I tell the kids start at the junior college, mooch off your parents awhile longer. Gain some maturity; go to a smaller school then hit the universities,” he said.
Students may move on to a bigger and brighter future, but McNamee keeps tabs on them to see how they’re doing and what choices they’ve made in life.
“I have 300 former students on my Facebook. I’ve been doing this so long that former students come up to me and I don’t recognize them they’ve changed so much. I’ve taught kids of former students and even one grandchild of a former student,” stated McNamee with a grin.
He has a great deal of pride in those students who have moved beyond the expectations of their environment. McNamee knows the circumstances that many of the students come from and knows that there are many obstacles they need to overcome.
“Sometimes I wonder how some of these kids make it to school with all that goes on in their homes. But I guess this gives them structure that they don’t have otherwise and they know they’re cared for here,” stated McNamee.
As McNamee wraps up his final year at HHS he knows that it won’t be the last time he walks through the front door. There will be programs that he’ll want to head up and projects he’ll want to commit some time to, but his overall goal is to relax and enjoy his family.
That family may be bigger than most, extending beyond his children and grandchildren to include hundreds of grateful students and parents who have seen a brighter future with greater opportunities, thanks to McNamee.
While he is grateful for the outcome and the success of his career, McNamee remains matter of fact about the future.
“Everyone moves on, and it would be presumptuous to think I can’t be replaced,” he said. “Everyone’s replaceable and I’m no different. There will be great successes here long after I’m gone, but it sure was a pleasant ride.”