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  • Writer's pictureReach University

Siskiyou Candidate Spotlight: Elizabeth Pyles

Updated: May 9, 2023

(MOUNT SHASTA, California ) Dave Theno, the program manager at Mount Shasta’s Golden Eagle Charter School, knows what it means to migrate north through California’s Great Central Valley, to settle on-up the Siskiyou trail. Alongside Theno, Golden Eagle’s Elizabeth Pyles migrated north from Chico over thirty years ago.

Their unique and tenured connection to the area equips them to meet the specific educational needs of Siskiyou County families. But has time actually turned them into locals?

“When you move somewhere like this, if you haven’t been here for generations, you’re still a newcomer,” Theno explains, smiling.

“Everyone here all knows each other from high school,” Pyles adds. “I moved here 33 years ago and I still feel like a transplant sometimes.”

Tucked away in the shadows of Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County communities harbor unique, built-in resources, but they also have specific needs. In order to best-serve the area, both Theno and Pyles understand how necessary it is to adapt in order to solve unique problems.

Golden Eagle’s history is rooted in the community’s desire for curriculum adapted specifically to the needs of the individual family. Living in Siskiyou County is sparse and isolated, with families seeking educational solutions aligned with their environment, values, and logistical complexities.

One of the educational challenges unique to places like Golden Eagle’s Mount Shasta location is helping students visualize and experiment with the possibilities of their future, regardless of whether that means staying or leaving. You have to be able to imagine life beyond a mountain you can’t see over or through.

“Things are pretty insular here, and you can grow up feeling constrained,” Theno explains. “The economy here doesn’t offer a ton of professional jobs. We have education, healthcare, law enforcement, and forest services, but there isn’t a rich tapestry of professional jobs, so you don’t grow up seeing a lot of modeling of great situations if you decide to stay.”

The malleability of Golden Eagle’s founding principles, however, allows Siskiyou County families to respond to developmental needs through variety and specificity.

“I’ve been here from the beginning,” Pyles adds. “We were always unique in that our parents could choose their curriculum, and the educational facilitators would pull out what the students were doing and put that into a learning record for the state. So that’s the concept that Golden Eagle has always tried to keep: parental choice and a unique curriculum experience. Most of the charter schools were going to one curriculum for all because it simplified things. But we tried to keep this variety and unique perspective to better serve the area.”

Pyles, an experienced classroom aide who has been with Golden Eagle since its inception, is doing exactly what Theno says the area needs: providing for Siskiyou county’s youth a model of unique professional development.

Pyles is pursuing an affordable job-embedded bachelor’s degree. She attends Reach University while also receiving coursework credit for her paid duties at Golden Eagle. Pyles has served Siskiyou County as both an educator and as a journalist, but the right path to a bachelor’s degree has eluded her for years.

She now pays $75 per month in tuition, and has been able to transform where she lives and works into her college campus.

Theno explains that the exploration of alternative career development has almost become a requirement for those wanting to live and work in the area. “Those of us who have been able to go into certain fields while also living here have definitely had to be crafty about how things work,” he says.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself through this process,” Pyles says of her Reach experience. “I’m teaching and learning at the same time, and it’s taught me a lot about my own experiences as a student, and I think that has helped me become a more compassionate teacher.

“I’ve come to realize that I really want to work with kids one on one as a teacher. School can sometimes be a great source of anxiety for them, especially here, and I know what that feels like. I love helping them in that way, walking and talking with them. I haven’t figured everything out yet, though. It’s all still evolving.”

A willingness to adapt and evolve can serve as a consistent source of strength, and both Pyles and the community she serves have seen the benefits of creativity and perseverance. Efforts like hers showcase how rural and isolated areas can still produce their own talent pipelines. For Pyles, both Golden Eagle and Siskiyou County have been integral to her professional growth.

“I love Siskiyou County,” she says. “As a reporter, I’ve been to a lot of different places here talking to different people. A lot of history and diversity, all through Weed and Mount Shasta and Yreka. It’s just beautiful, and I absolutely love the people here.”

Candidate Elizabeth Pyles in her Golden Eagle classroom.

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