Feature: Hurdling Through Her First Year at M-A: April Holliverse
There are few teachers at M-A who can boast of a being former Division One collegiate athlete. Yet Ms. Holliverse, the newest addition to M-A’s English department fits that description, having competed in track and field at the University of California, Berkeley.
Ms. Holliverse attended John W. North High School in Riverside, California where she began her track career in the hurdles. Her coach, Charles Leathers, also led several other runners to victory, including Joanna Hayes who won gold in the hurdles at the 2004 Olympics.
After running for four years and concluding with a state championship, Ms. Holliverse received a full scholarship to UC Berkeley.
She states, “I couldn’t have imagined going to Cal and not having been an athlete. It really changed the whole dynamic and experience of college life.”
Ms. Holliverse was recruited by Cal’s assistant track coach; she recalls being contacted at her house in Los Angeles and then being flown north, where she was picked up by the head track coach, Irv Hunt. After visiting the campus and meeting her new teammates, Ms. Holliverse instantly saw herself as a student-athlete there.
For her, it was “an immediate way to be welcomed. A lot of students, when they go to college, are looking for friends or clubs, a connection.” She remembers being grateful for being part of a team and walking across campus in her track pants and jacket with pride.
“When I wore that uniform, I ran on that track, I represented the university that was the number one school in the country…I was one of the few full-scholarship students there because track didn’t get a lot of money, so I was quite honored,” Ms. Holliverse reminisces.
During her senior year of high school, Ms. Holliverse had established her desire to pursue a career with young people after interning at a local psychologist’s clinic. Later, while living in the Bay Area, she joined AmeriCorps, mentoring kids in Oakland and Berkeley. She recalls that this experience further deepened her love for working with kids.
But Ms. Holliverse found her true calling in teaching, because “it’s really rewarding and fulfilling, and I think that being able to make a difference in someone’s life, maybe save a life, is one of the most important things. It gives purpose to work which I think is really important.”
She began at M-A last year as a long-term substitute and decided to come back, having liked M-A from her initial interview. This year, Ms. Holliverse teaches 9th and 10th graders; her freshmen are in a System 44 class, which uses rotations to emphasize small-group learning and development.
Providing an example for children and teens is a key part of teaching for Ms. Holliverse. She explains that “even sometimes the kids that come from rougher neighborhoods… to be able to see the light spark in their eyes and give them hope, and to say: ‘you’re in this moment but I believe in you. Your situation that you’re in right now doesn’t dictate your future.’”
Ms. Holliverse explains, “For me, every hurdle that I literally cleared was metaphoric. It represented each challenge or struggle in my life.”
She traces this to when her high school track coach supported her when she felt defeated, and helped her define this mantra of getting over each hurdle.
“There were days I was at practice and I would cry, and I’d go to my coach and say, ‘what is this really all about?’ or ‘I’m struggling with this at home,’ and he would say, ‘I believe in you… I think you’re going to make it. If you run this time, you’ll have schools calling you,” Ms. Holliverse remembers.
With this advice, she was able to focus and ended up fourth in the state in the 100m hurdles, helping her get the full scholarship to Cal.
Along with teaching English, Ms. Holliverse also helps coach the school track team, demonstrating proper hurdle techniques and workouts. According to Ms. Holliverse, it provides a different perspective of interaction with students, on the track instead of in the classroom. She enjoys being able to help just as her former high school coach did, bonding with athletes and working out problems or issues.
Running track created a vital part of Ms. Holliverse’s identity; she says that track “creates this inner strength, inner fire in you that doesn’t ever leave. I’m an adult now and I’m teaching but track will always be a part of me. It’s a strength that goes beyond actual running on the track, it transfers to life.”