Gaye Coburn, A Legend. By: Jennifer Anima

As many know, Mrs. Coburn has been at North High for a very long time. 37 years to be exact which was her whole teaching career. She has taught many about what it means to tell someone's story, but it is our turn to tell hers.

Gaye Coburn grew up in Salina Kansas where she attended Salina South high school from 1974 to 1978. Unlike North, Salina South had little traditions then since the school was built in 1970. “The school was built in these pods, so these big circular areas and the classrooms were around the outside with just partitions between them so you could take out the partitions and it would be like one big circle.” Coburn said. One thing Coburn had to learn fast was to pay attention to your own teacher and not the ones just feet away. “It was the 70’s, they were trying things.”

Coburn then went graduated from Fort Hays State with a Masters in Journalism. After finishing her bachelors, she decided she should try getting a teaching certificate. “I went to do my student teaching, I came back to school and I told my advisor after my student teaching ‘I loved that’ and he said ‘I knew you would’.” Coburn said. After student teaching Gaye became Mrs. Coburn walked into North High and started her teaching career in 1982 at just 22 years old.

Due to the lack of diversity at Salina South she was hit with tons of tradition and humbled students that had been built up since 1929. She was amazed at how many students had their parents and grandparents come to North High and the diversity around every corner. “Coming to North and just the richness of the diversity and the long time diversity of the neighborhoods, that’s why I fell in love with North High.” Coburn said.

“Kids letting you know that they turned out okay and that you had some part of that, that is very meaningful to me.”

Coburn’s favorite thing about North is the culture and character that illuminates each student here. She explained that the North community creates a family environment and has huge commitment from Alumni that she has never seen anywhere else. Everyone at North, to her, seems to encourage and nurture one another.

Her biggest inspiration are the students. Coming from struggling families, she expressed how she has seen these same struggling kids continue to show up and work hard. There is no sense of entitlement and she knows students understand they must work hard to get what they want. “The other thing I didn’t understand at 22 years old, just how different other peoples lives were from mine. That’s been a real gift to see. I admire so many of our students the way they achieve and try even though life sucks for them sometimes, that has been inspiring to me.” Coburn said. One thing she will take away from North High is to never give up, to keep going and that life is not easy but that is okay.

“When I came here I thought I was going to grace everybody with all of my knowledge and I quickly learned that thats not what teaching is really about.”

After retirement the one thing she will not be doing is waking up at 5:30 in the morning every day! She has decided to take time to volunteer and get involved in issues she feel passionate about. There will be more recent flights to colorado to see her grandkids and she will be traveling across the country.

As many of our Redskins know, Coburns partner in crime is Randy Griffitts. Griffitts walked in to his first class of high school where he was welcomed by Mrs. Coburn. “He came walking into my class and he was like 4 feet tall. He was the cutest little thing!” Coburn said. He was in her class for four years and headed to college only to come back and student teach for her. Coburn believes they have had an equal partnership and that she has learned as much as he has from her. The last piece of advice she gave him was “He’s gon’ be fine, that’s what I need to tell him. HE IS GOING TO BE FINE!”

“People say ‘how could you teach your whole career at one school?’ but if youve been here why would you go anywhere else? This school to me is it. I could never imagine going anywhere else. Maybe that makes me a boring, unadventurous person but I just felt like I stumbled into the coolest place and why would I leave. “

For the future redskins, those being students and teachers Mrs. Coburn also left some advice. “Everybody has a story. The really challenging, exciting, and inspirational path is to work really hard to find those stories and tell them. That’s what young journalist should be about, helping people tell their story.”

Thank you. - Wichita North High

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Jennifer Anima


Jennifer Anima-Valdez

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