Educator Highlight: Walter Halaberda — Flagstaff High School

| May 3, 2017

Editor’s Note: Part an occasional series of articles highlighting educators in Coconino County. Do you have an educator who you believe should be highlighted? Send an email and a photo to frank@coconinokids.org

By Frank X. Moraga • CCC&Y

Flagstaff High School English teacher Walter Halaberda talks to community volunteers at the conclusion of the Senior Exit Interview.

After presiding over the final of four Senior Exit Interview sessions, you would expect Walter Halaberda to just collapse into his chair and take a much-deserved break.

Instead, Halaberda, an English teacher at Flagstaff High School, was leading an animated discussion in the school’s library on how well the students did facing an onslaught of questions from panels of two or three community volunteers during the 30-minute sessions.

For many of the students, this was their first formal mock job interviews, with interviewers providing them tips on how to dress for success, how to create a resume that highlights their accomplishments and their future educational and professional goals and how to present a relaxed but professional demeanor during the interview sessions.

This is exactly the information Halaberda wants the students to gain from the program, which for the first time will award three scholarships for the best interviewees.

“I feel that giving the students this opportunity to meet people from outside their comfort zone from in the community, letting the students know and having them see that ‘somebody else cares about me or is interested in my story beyond my immediate circle,’ it challenges them,” he said.

Halaberda, who teachers English 11 and Dual Enrollment English 11 at the high school, grew up in Rochester, Minn.; Longmont, Colo., and Boca Raton, Fla. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in media production but, he said, he “hated that and so I started substitute teaching at Tallahassee and really loved it. That’s when I started applying at several schools to get my master’s in secondary English education. NAU accepted me so I packed up my gear and headed west.”

He has a post-degree certification from NAU and a master’s degree teaching English as a second language and has been teaching at FHS for 17 years.

Halaberda took over the Senior Exit Interview program about four years ago when Kathi Baron retired.

“She started it when I first started teaching here and it made sense to me. It gave kids real-world applications,” he said. “It’s something I believe in, in terms of giving the kids a real-world experience. Having outsiders, not teachers, not school administrators, giving them advice. It’s people who are going to hire them potentially. I can’t think of any better way to give these kids those kind of experiences.”

Halaberda said he has already heard from students who have gone through the program.

“When they come back they say they really get the value of these kind of programs, where it helps them not just get to jobs, or prepare to get jobs, but they find themselves nominated for scholarships and they have to do an interview to get that scholarship.”

It has also paid off in term of employment.

“I had one young lady who came come back and said, ‘I got a job at Nestle Purina,’ so she ended up with a summer job there,” he said.

Sometimes, Halaberda has to do a bit of a sales job.

“I had to convince, in that first round, about three or four students who came in and didn’t want to do it. I told them, ‘Do it anyway, just for the experience, for the feedback,’” he said. “They come out of here and they are like, ‘Oh, I learned something about myself.’ It’s that hesitant kid that is scared coming in but leaves with a little bit more confidence, with a little bit more knowledge about themselves. That’s the beauty right there and that’s what I got into teaching for.”

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