Making the Grade: Jerry Fabyanic
Summit High American literature teacher Jerry Fabyanic may have “retired” in 2003, but his definition of retirement is clearly not for everyone.In addition to guiding juniors through “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby” in Summit County, the 56-year-old Georgetown resident hosts two shows on KYGT radio, writes a column for the “Clear Creek Current,” helps out at the Winter Park ski resort and volunteers for the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).After 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, including eight at Summit High, Fabyanic decided to call it quits, and he thought his days of quizzes and grades were over. One year away from the classroom was enough, though. When an opportunity to come back to the Summit school system on a temporary basis presented itself, Fabyanic just couldn’t say no. For the past year and a half, he has once again been sharing his passion for American literature with the younger generation.”A fictional piece is open to anyone,” he said. “There’s something magical about fiction or great literature.” The Pennsylvania native talks about Huck Finn, Atticus Finch and Jay Gatsby as if he knows them personally.”I take any piece that’s written and put it into a historical context,” he said. “History is not an abstract concept then.”
Fabyanic’s belief in the teaching power of fiction reflects his appreciation of the role of myth in the human condition. “I’m a follower of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung,” he said. According to Fabyanic, the study of literature can encompass all three of Campbell’s principles: math, music and mythology.”That’s the beauty of English,” he said. “It covers everything.”Although he may deny it, Fabyanic’s personal story includes some elements of epic literature. His father, a tool and die maker, was killed in a hunting accident when Fabyanic was three. His mother did her best to raise her 13 children by herself.”There wasn’t a lot of food on the table,” he said. “We ate at lot of corn meal mush. And I learned how to darn a sock at age five.”Living in an 800-square-foot house with eight sisters, four brothers and only one bathroom gave him a sense of what’s important in life.”You learned fairness,” he said. The first in his family to graduate from college, Fabyanic was running a bowling alley near Pittsburgh when he made his first trip to Colorado in the summer of 1976.
“I climbed up on a snowfield and said, ‘This is it,'” he said. His lifelong desire to be a teacher was finally realized when he left Pennsylvania and went to work at Aurora Hills Middle School in the Front Range. Fabyanic has only positive things to say about his move the Summit High School in 1994.”Teaching at Summit has just been an incredible life experience,” he said. “I have worked with some classic people.”A one-time conservative turned progressive, Fabyanic emphasizes the importance of independent thinking in both his classes and his volunteer work with the ACLU. “I tell the kids, it doesn’t matter to me what side of any issue you take,” he said. “What matters to me is using the grey matter between your ears.” Fabyanic’s personal experience reflects his willingness to practice what he preaches. As he furthered his education and listened to more perspectives, he found himself examining his own way of looking at the world. “This rigid view I had of the world was not valid,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘Is it really you, do you really believe this?'”
His commitment to both education and civil rights has involved him in the ACLU’s education committee, where he works to create ways to promote the Bill of Rights at the high school level. For these efforts, he was recently honored as Volunteer of the Year by the ACLU’s Colorado chapter.Fabyanic commutes to Summit County from Georgetown, where he lives with his dog, Knox. Although he plans to travel the world when he finally does quit teaching in the classroom, the 11-year-old chocolate Lab is his first priority now.”I just love him to death,” he said. “I just can’t leave him anywhere.”When asked what goals he has for his students, Fabyanic echoes the words of philosopher Joseph Campbell.”Follow your bliss,” he said. “Life has no meaning – you give it meaning. If your goal is just transitory, it’s fleeting, it’ll die.”For his own life, he keeps his goals simple.”Stay immersed, stay healthy,” he said. “Enjoy the moment.”
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