by Brissa Reyes
Teachers are much more than just educators. They inspire, create, and encourage greatness from the people around them. Whether it’s investing in their students to strive for success or simply by instructing complex ideas that help them grow intellectually. They shape the lives of our community in grand ways and are deserving of an immense amount of recognition, more than what they usually receive. We would like to recognize one of those teachers who has positively influenced the lives of many, and has changed the community for the better: RHS Calculus teacher Don Friesen.
Don Friesen has been teaching at Reedley High School for fifty-one years, since the creation of Kings Canyon Unified School District in 1966. He has taught at every level from General Math through the second year of Calculus, as well as the first Computer Classes offered at Reedley High, including AP Computer Science. He was responsible for obtaining the computers for the new district, and has also taught computer literacy to teachers in the early years.
Born in Fowler and raised in Reedley, he didn’t decide he wanted to be a teacher until after attending six years of college classes that allowed him to participate in volunteer service in Africa. “When I was a high school and college student, I was terrified of standing in front of a group and speaking. When my father suggested that I might try teaching, I thought he was really off the mark.” However, he later realized that the aspects of teaching that he liked outweighed his fear.
While attending Bethel College he met his wife Ele, from Minnesota, whom he has been married to for fifty-five years. After marrying in 1962, he traveled to Africa and taught in Dodoma, Tanzania for three years. After they moved back to Reedley, he began teaching once again. “I was asked by then Math Department Chairperson, Merle Siebert, if I wanted to teach here. Merle Siebert was a role model for me and has been a good friend to this day.”
Mr. Friesen is passionate about mathematics and loves to invest time into his students. “I really like teaching young people. I also like mathematics. Fifty-four years is a long time, but students are always new and have made a lot of changes in my teaching style over the years. Even this year I am learning new mathematics and trying to create better ways for students to learn. The students I have had these last years have been delightful to teach and a blessing to get to know.”
He is a strong advocate for peace and social justice, and is a proud member of Reedley Peace Center, located at the First Mennonite Church. This organization sponsors the Students for Peace Club at Reedley High. The core purpose of both the club and the organization is to keep informed and promote justice and peace abroad and within the community. It was created in 2003 when accumulating rhetoric for the invasion of Iraq began (also coinciding with the creation of the organization). He considers the club on the high school campus the most worthwhile thing he does and has been able to know many students better than through his classes. “I am amazed at the commitment and energy and goodness of so many students. Some of them also become involved with the Peace Center in meaningful ways and that has deepened the experience. This club has been a great gift to me in my old age.”
His advising of the club and his teaching of Calculus have inspired many of his students, this is evident when you speak to them. “Calculus is a difficult class for everyone, no matter how good you are at math. Calculus with Mr. Friesen is challenging, but what I like most about it is that he genuinely cares about us as students and human beings. He goes above and beyond, in regards, to his teaching and helping his students too. Students for Peace gave me that voice I have been looking for my whole life. It allowed me to help others and has opened up my mind to so many things in the world I never knew had existed,” expresses Lorena Orozco, a current Calculus BC student and member of the club.
“I would consider him a mentor human being. His knowledge of math is so vast, but his care for human beings is greater. He is a person of total integrity and all his ideals should be looked up to. I think he deserves the Nobel Prize for Peace!” declares Jennifer Moore, AP English Language teacher and co-advisor for SFP club.
“He is very well respected in the Math Department and is very dedicated. He invests in his students and it really shows. I remember taking a math class from him for review, and although it was something I had already learned, it was interesting,” said Tyler Ruiz a fellow math teacher.
A typical work day for him starts at 6 a.m., the time he usually arrives to school. Students arrive around 7 a.m. to ask questions. He makes himself available to his students before school, at break, and after school on certain days. Over his career he has created seven to eight new courses, all ranging from Consumer Mathematics to Computer Science to Calculus. In the 90s, he received the opportunity to create his own curriculum and calls this the busiest and most intense experience of his life.
In his free-time he enjoys reading and is deeply connected to the First Mennonite Church in Reedley where he has many close friends. He has three children and three grandchildren who he cherishes and are a very important part of his life.
Don Friesen defines the most memorable moments in his career as being the times when he has discovered how wonderful former student’s lives have turned out. “Touching people’s lives and observing people learn new and difficult ideas are both great experiences.”