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Eric and Kathy Pilgrim share roles as classroom teachers at Century. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Pilgrim duo at the helm in Century School classrooms

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A Park Rapids mom and son are now both teaching at Century School.

Kathy Pilgrim has taught in Park Rapids for 32 years and has seen dramatic changes in education during that time.

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Eric Pilgrim, 24, is just beginning his teaching career. This is his second year of teaching and first year at Park Rapids.

Although each has some similarities, each also has unique perspectives on teaching.

They both went to Bemidji State University for college and knew they wanted to be teachers at a fairly young age.

"It started when I was in high school sports," Eric said. "We did a lot of helping out with younger kids. As I did that more and more I just wanted to continue down that path."

In college, Eric worked more with kids in the classroom and continued to enjoy it.

"It seemed to be a good fit," he said.

Kathy remembers her son working with kids in little league and thinking he would be a good teacher.

"Kids are always able to tell when you like them or if you don't," she said. "And Eric likes kids, you can tell."

Eric has enjoyed teaching third graders because they are independent but "still respect your authority."

Kathy teaches fifth graders.

"To be honest, I always wanted to be a teacher," she said. "I was a teacher's assistant in high school, I can remember playing school at home as a kid. And I still love teaching."

Since Kathy started teaching, she has noticed changes in the role of being an educator over the years.

"Now I see us as more of a role model or parent to these kids," Kathy said. "Being a parent or guardian as well as someone who teaches them academically."

She said there has always been more to school than just academics but being a role model or parent has grown in importance.

The family structure has also changed, she added. Some families are no longer made up of a mom, a dad and children. There are stepmoms, stepbrothers, half sisters, single parents or guardians.

"I used to always say parents but now I use the word guardian because I don't know," Kathy said. "I think that's something I've really seen change over the years."

Eric hasn't seen that change as much. When he was in school many of his friends already had a different family structure, he said.

Classes dealing with diversity are now taught to students who are studying to be teachers.

In college, Eric took classes on cultural diversity that dealt with different cultures and different poverty levels within those cultures. Also, he took a human relations class that dealt with treating people equally and how to deal with split homes, for example.

Eric has noticed that technology has changed dramatically in the classroom since he was in school.

"So much is based on the computer now with attendance and e-mail," he said.

Students now know how to log on to the computers and complete Accelerated Reader tests.

He thinks technology will continue to improve and be utilized in classrooms.

Eric had mixed feelings at first about coming back to teach where he had gone to school.

"A lot of the staff is still here from when I went to school so I was excited but also nervous," he said.

Those mixed feelings have already gone away.

"I couldn't be happier," Eric said. "It's been great. It's a great school. I've been accepted very well by everyone."

Kathy has noticed that Park Rapids has always had a strong school system with staff that is willing to work together for the benefit of students.

"These kids leave with a great education. The staff is very capable," she said.

Over the last few years Park Rapids has gained a lot of younger teachers to add to an experienced staff.

"It's exciting to see people come into your profession who are really excited about the profession and have a lot of energy," Kathy said. "They have a lot of new ideas but are also willing to use older ideas."

She recalls being the only woman teaching fifth grade when she started, which she said was unusual.

"They were so willing to say, 'this works for me, try it. If it doesn't, that's OK,'" she said.

Kathy said there are very few male elementary teachers nationwide (about 9 percent, she said) and is glad her son decided to go into teaching.

"It's so important to have these positive role models for these kids who don't have dads in their lives," she said.

Since Kathy and Eric teach on different ends of the school, they don't run into each other too often. But Kathy said it's refreshing to see her son at the school doing a good job.

Teaching expands beyond Kathy and Eric in their family. Kathy also has two sisters that are teachers along with brothers-in-law.

When they get together, there is always discussion about education, whether it be about MCA testing or telling stories.

"We're always sharing stories and keeping a good sense of humor," Kathy said. "There's no teacher bashing in our family."

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