Your Neighbor: Meet Pat Capps

Published 12:05 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

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By Mandy Haggerson

For the Clemmons Courier

If you have ever dropped by a previous workplace and found it filled with fond memories and were greeted with warm smiles from former colleagues as you walked through the halls, then you might have reason to hope that you have made as much of an impact on them as they have on you. Many teachers have the opportunity to do just that and more. Pat Capps, for instance, wore many hats in various school systems. However, the one place where she spent the majority of her career working to make a difference as an educator was at Summit School.

Growing up with parents who were educators, it would seem like a natural fit for Capps to pursue a career in the academic world.

“My father was a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and my mom was a teacher at an independent school,” Capps said. “I saw how much time my mom spent grading papers. I thought I would do anything but become a teacher.”

With two educators for parents, it’s not surprising that academics seemed to come naturally to Capps. In high school, she never had to work too hard to achieve straight As. When Capps finished 8th out of 300, she could pick where she would attend college.

“My father wanted me to attend Mary Washington, but I convinced him to let me go to William & Mary, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology,” Capps said.

It was during her undergraduate time that she really learned the importance of developing study skills.

“My classes were very challenging, and I realized pretty quickly that I was going to need to spend more time studying,” Capps said. “The problem was that I had never done that before and didn’t really know how.”

After teaching herself meaningful ways to study and retain what she was learning, Capps saw the fruits of her labor in her grades.

“It was very motivating,” Capps said. “I wanted to do well.”

Once Capps graduated, she decided to utilize her degree as a social worker in Durham.

“I worked in that capacity for about two years,” Capps said. “I couldn’t believe the caseload while I was there. By the end of the second year, I hadn’t even gotten through two-thirds of the cases that were waiting to be completed. It was at that time I decided to go back to school and get my master of arts in teaching (MAT) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

Part of Capps’ MAT program included interning at a school. She headed to Charlotte to work in a middle school that was part of a federal project with several other schools that needed curriculum development. Capps quickly realized how much she enjoyed the development piece.

While finding her way professionally, Capps also met her future husband, Gene.

“He had been in the same program that I was in a year prior,” Capps said. “We dated for about five years before we ended up getting married.”

Pat and Gene had relocated to the Winston-Salem area because of a job opportunity at Old Salem for Gene. Pat had begun teaching language arts and social studies at Wiley Middle School.

“I remember it was during that time that I tutored one little girl in language arts and social studies,” Capps said. “After two sessions, I realized that it wasn’t reading that she was struggling with, it was how to approach her study habits. That was the beginning of my interest in helping children get organized and equip them with study habits. I kept working with kids in that area and taught them how to apply their skills to their work, which subsequently improved their reading too.”

After working in an open classroom setting (106 students in the morning and 106 students in the afternoon), Capps decided to go to Walkertown Middle School to teach seventh grade.

“I had a student teacher assisting me at that time. We had different spaces set up throughout the classroom where the students would rotate. They loved it,” Capps said. “During my second year, I got pregnant with our daughter, Jordan (47). Once she was born, I stayed home with her for the first seven years. Our daughter Clayton (44) had been born three years after we had Jordan. I loved being able to stay home with them while they were little. Once they started school, I realized that I had missed teaching so much. I had done a bit of teaching study skills in our basement when they were little. I held workshops to help students and enjoyed seeing the connection they had when it really clicked.”

After Clayton spent some time in a Montessori School, Capps applied for a fourth-grade position at Summit School. “Although it was not my field, I thought it would be the best fit since my girls were younger and also attending Summit School,” mentions Capps. “A lot of what I had taught students in my workshops, I applied those same study skills courses to the fourth-grade students. And that became popular, and I taught those same study skills in the after-school programs for several years. I involved sixth graders that had completed the workshop to help the new students, and that seemed to be a successful component, too.”

Capps had really honed her niche with teaching students how to acquire the most effective study skills. In the summers, she would continue to hold study skills workshops at Summit School.

After 15 years of working at Summit, Capps applied for a position teaching ninth-grade social studies. The head of school at that time, Sandra Adams, stopped by Capps’s classroom to see how the transition had gone.

“She asked me how long it took me to realize I had done the right thing by going back to older students,” Capps said. “I told her about 20 minutes.

“After a couple of years, I noticed that the public school system was changing to world history. I told Sandra that we, too, needed to change. I was going from an area of strength to an area of weakness, so I did some research. I took some material from Brown University that was helpful with teaching students how to map and follow trends.”

After five years in that role, Capps became the ninth-grade dean and curriculum coordinator for the school. While supporting the teachers in their roles, Capps also acted as the main coordinator for various projects that inspired students to start thinking about their careers. “I thought it was helpful for students to do a personality inventory and research three possible careers that they would be interested in. They would then shadow someone in the community in that area of interest, reflect on that day with a research paper, and present it to their peers. It got them thinking what it would take to attain that career and the necessary traits to be successful,” remembers Capps.

While making a difference in the lives of many students, Capps was also experiencing varying life chapters. Her children were getting married and starting careers of their own. Both hers and Gene’s parents were getting older, and they helped care for them as their health declined. Capps, too, experienced a successful fight with breast cancer.

Although many look forward to slowing down and retirement, Capps wasn’t used to that pace of life. Having left Summit School in 2014, she knew instantly how much she missed it and the connection she shared with students and their families.

“About three or four years ago, I started volunteering in the library. I come in every day for about an hour to an hour and a half to help out. I now have two grandchildren that are here too which makes it really special,” revealed the grandmother to Winston (16), Harper (14), Fisher (12), Ford (9) and Charlie (6).

Capps has been especially grateful to have her family around after Gene’s recent passing.

“He was loving, kind, gentle and a great father,” Capps said. “I miss him terribly.”

Reflecting on the family that she and Gene started gives Pat lots of joy in between the moments she misses his company.

“It’s nice to be able to pick up the grandkids when my daughter needs some extra help,” Capps said. “That time together is precious, and I treasure it. And if I’m not spending time with them, I make sure to go to my exercise program three days a week over at Wake Forest. I’ve done that for the past nine years, and it’s nice to have that accountability to stay healthy. It allows me to continue doing all these things that I love.”