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Retiring science teacher part of LMS from its beginning

It’s not true that when Dorothy Satriana started teaching at then-new Lincoln Middle School that she had to chisel her lesson plans onto stone tablets.

But it is true that she had blackboards back then, and, like stone tablets, those are long-gone. Smart boards are now the rage for teachers everywhere.

Satriana isn’t one to forsake technology: She’s been a science teacher — arguably one of the best in the district — for three decades. She and her students have discussed, right after they happened, the Challenger disaster in 1986, and, more recently, tornadoes and hurricanes.

Satriana was teaching at science LMS the day it opened (Aug. 22, 1983) to 614 students and was still there on Friday. Classroom 236 was at the end of — what else? — the Dorothy Satriana Hall.*

She’s not there anymore. She decided it’s time to retire, after 30 years at LMS, several years as a substitute and two years as a physical education teacher at West Mesa High School, right after it opened in 1966.

“It is truly bittersweet to retire,” says Satriana, wearing a “Science is awesome” T-shirt as she reflected upon her classroom days Wednesday morning.

She always wanted to be a teacher. She remembered growing up in Silver City, when she would “line up my dolls and teddy bears. They were good (students); they never talked back.”

She got the “bug” to teach early, although only an uncle was in education and he was a band teacher.

After the family moved to Albuquerque, Satriana attended Lavaland Elementary, John Adams Middle School and Rio Grande High School, where she graduated in 1962.

She then headed to the west mesa and enrolled at the University of Albuquerque. “I was the first to go to college from my family,” she said. A scholarship from the Future Teachers of America helped her pay her way. While at the U of A, she played intramural volleyball and softball, so later, being a P.E. teacher and having a lot of athletes in her family would be a natural occurrence.

In the fall of 1966, she was teaching P.E. at West Mesa, but after two years she left the profession to raise her family, which grew to two sons — Gino Satriana is a football and baseball coach at Rio Rancho High School — and two daughters. When the youngest child was in sixth grade, she left her job as astay-at-home mom, “Which I do not regret at all,” she said — to re-enter the teaching profession.

Working as a long-term sub at Marie Hughes Elementary, she said she was called by then APS Superintendent Bob Evans, who was asking her if she’d be interested in teaching at under-construction Lincoln Middle School.

She said yes — ironically, her husband Jack was doing the drywall work there — and the rest is history.

She recalled the good days — displaying the moon rocks and getting a visit from NASA officials — and the bad days, namely student “strikes” when APS began busing students from Taylor Middle School to LMS, which grew to 1,600 students and needed 16 portables.

“We were on the news quite a bit,” she said.

Since those literal “growing pains” days, the “400 wing” was built, plus three labs, one of which was to be her classroom, were built in the “200 wing.”

“Back in 1993, Dorothy met with me and hired me as a science teacher at Lincoln,” recalled Rio Rancho High School Principal Richard Von Ancken, chuckling at the memory. “I became her boss (after being named principal there).

“She is outstanding and devoted. The lab experiences she provides for those middle-schoolers are top-notch in the nation. It’s a big loss for the district.”

Added LMS Principal Debby Morrell, “Dorothy has dedicated (almost) her entire professional life to the students and families of the Lincoln Middle School community.  She has provided consistent leadership for a strong team of science teachers for many years!  We wish her the very best as she enjoys this new phase of her life.”

Although your basic middle-school student is the same as those back in the 1980s, she said, she has noticed a few changes through the decades: “In 1983, kids were more responsible then; they weren’t as enabled as much by their parents then — (the kids) were more self-motivated.”

She’s changed some, too, although said she’s always been a “structured” teacher.

“I’m kind of old school,” she admitted. “I like to have fun with my kids, but they know my limits. When I speak, they listen.”

Her students in the 21st century use more critical-thinking skills than in days gone by, and rely more on technology than heading to the library. But Satriana often takes her kids into the libraries: “I don’t like to tell them everything; I like them to go out and do research.”

Lately, when a big news event, such as a deadly tornado strikes, “The kids ask questions. We bring in the real world — that’s how we get started.”

And, now this is how it ends: Saying goodbye to LMS and knowing when school starts in August, she’ll miss it. And soon, she hopes, she and her husband of 47 years will hit the road, traveling who knows where — on a real adventure.

“Thanks for the memories; it is truly bittersweet to retire,” Satriana said, with three days left in her teaching career.

The next time you see her, it might be on one of her traveling adventures, or maybe at the Albuquerque Museum of Science and Natural History, where she hopes to serve as a volunteer.

(* Not many people are fortunate enough to have something named after them in Rio Rancho. Other than long-gone Abe Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., others are the late Maggie Cordova (Elementary), Ernest Stapleton (Elementary), Paul Kohman (scoreboard), Gary Hveem (Press Box), Ken Todd (Clubhouse), V. Sue Cleveland (High School) and, someday in the not-too-distant future, Joe Harris (Elementary). Also, there are three tournaments named after deceased RRHS athletes Sal Puentes and Kristin Griego, and former high school and college official Mel Otero.)