Mona Shield Payne
Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 | 2 a.m.
It’s the first day of school at Cheyenne High, and Colin Snyder is standing outside his classroom, shaking hands with every student who walks through his door.
“Good morning,” the ninth-grade honors English teacher says, looking each pupil in the eyes. “Come on in. Have a seat.”
The first bell rings shortly after 7 a.m. and Snyder swiftly closes the door. Moments later, a booming voice comes on the loudspeakers, echoing across this North Las Vegas campus.
After leading the Pledge of Allegiance and pausing for a 30-second moment of silence, the disjointed voice ends the morning broadcast with a cheery, “Have a great Cheyenne day.”
“That’s Sgt. Major Schoolfield,” Snyder tells his class of 23 freshmen. “You’ll be hearing from him every day. If you’re interested in signing up for ROTC, he’s the one to see.”
Even though it’s Snyder’s first year teaching, the 23-year-old educator acts with an aura of confidence that usually comes with years of experience and familiarity with a school.
For Snyder, the first day of school at Cheyenne is something of a homecoming.
The Cheyenne High School graduate, class of 2008, is starting his career at his alma mater, teaching about 200 members of the Cheyenne class of 2017.
“Good morning. My name is Mr. Snyder,” he says, introducing himself. “It wasn’t too long ago that I was in your shoes.”
• • •
Braving rain and backed-up roads, more than 312,000 Clark County students returned to school Monday, signaling the start of another year for the nation’s fifth-largest school system.
The School District’s 18,000 teachers have been preparing for this day for the past couple of weeks, cleaning campuses, creating lessons plans and decorating classrooms.
This year, the district welcomed 1,800 new teachers — including Snyder. For many of these educators, the first day of school brought about the same nervousness their students felt on their first day.
“I’m a bit anxious,” Snyder said, looking around his new classroom. “It’s weird to be back.”
Snyder fell in love with literature nearly a decade ago during the ninth grade, sitting in a classroom similar to this one at Cheyenne.
It was Jennifer Joseph’s English honors class, and their assignment was to act out William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a freshman-year classic.
Joseph, now 43 and an instructional coach at Cheyenne, recalls asking the class for volunteers to play Juliet Capulet. No one wanted the role — except Snyder.
Snyder did a great job portraying the tragic character, and for the rest of the year he signed his class assignments with “Colin Capulet,” Joseph said, chuckling at the memory.
As a learning strategist, Joseph will work closely with Snyder to help him grow as a teacher this year.
Already, Snyder has plans to adapt Joseph’s lesson on “Romeo and Juliet,” asking his students to write Twitter messages and blog posts from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. Snyder believes incorporating digital tools will help 21st-century students relate to characters from the 16th century.
“He’s a goofy, versatile kind of guy,” Joseph said of Snyder. “I think he’s going to be an amazing teacher.”
• • •
After graduating from Cheyenne, Snyder majored in education at UNR. Last year, Snyder returned to Cheyenne to student teach.
“I owe my love of learning to Cheyenne,” he said of his decision to return. “Mrs. Joseph is the reason why I wanted to become a teacher.”
Cheyenne has a growing cadre of young alumni-teachers. Snyder is the fourth Cheyenne teacher who also is a Cheyenne graduate.
For these alumni-teachers, their homecoming is often a lesson in adopting a new identity.
“My teachers are now my colleagues, and I’m calling them by their first names,” Snyder said. “Our roles have changed.”
And although Snyder views Cheyenne as a “time capsule,” his alma mater has changed since he graduated five years ago.
There was a time when the parking lot at Cheyenne was full of students' cars. The recession changed all that.
Last year, Cheyenne was named a Title I school, eligible for the first time for federal assistance because of its burgeoning population of students in need.
The school now has more minority students and those who don’t speak English at home. This year, only 191 of the nearly 500 Cheyenne seniors are on track to graduate.
Despite these growing challenges, Joseph credits the close-knit staff Cheyenne was able to cultivate in recent years for enticing alumni back to campus.
“The fact that these graduates want to come back here really says a lot about our school,” Joseph said. “We try to be more than a place where students get a pencil and a book. It takes a village to raise a kid.”
Young and energetic, Snyder plans to tackle Cheyenne’s challenges head on this year. He wants to help his freshmen navigate the transition from middle school to high school and prepare them to pass the proficiency exams on their first try next year.
Ultimately, he hopes to imbue the same love of literature that Joseph instilled in Snyder when he was a student.
And that makes the teaching profession so rewarding, Joseph said.
“It makes me feel that I did my job, to empower a student to love what you teach so much they come back to do what you do,” he said. “I’m so proud. I’m like a parent, bursting at the seams.”