Four new teachers spanning across different departments join Clayton High School (Erin Sucher-O' Grady)
Four new teachers spanning across different departments join Clayton High School

Erin Sucher-O' Grady

Fresh Faces to CHS

October 14, 2020

While we have been in school for a while now, there are some new teachers at Clayton High School. Because of online learning, you may have not gotten the chance to meet them. Meet the new teachers at Clayton!

Erika Whitfield

Erica Whitfield is an incoming English teacher at Clayton High School


Erika Whitfield

Photo of new English teacher Erika Whitfield, who formerly taught at SLPS

“I became an English teacher because I enjoy sharing literature with students. I enjoy exposing them to things that they normally wouldn’t read. And I enjoy writing a great deal… I think that combining the two as a career is like a match made in heaven,” said incoming CHS English teacher Erika Whitfield.
Whitfield has been an English teacher for eight years. She taught in St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) for six years and then at the Archdiocese of St. Louis for two years. But this fall will be Whitfield’s first time working with high school students.
“I’m really excited about working with high school students,” Whitfield said. “I’m really excited about talking about more relevant issues that are happening in the world today like talking about race issues, talking about gender issues, finding readings that really resonate with that and having some open dialogue about it.”
Despite her passion for teaching, Whitfield did not start out as an English teacher.
“[Before teaching] I worked in a corporate office at a grocery company, and I used to be a pricing analyst. So that’s a big difference from being a teacher. And I learned that my appreciation for literature and students weighs so heavily that if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t be okay with myself,” she said.
After transitioning to become a teacher, Whitfield was able to experience the bonding with students she had missed as a pricing analyst. Her favorite memory of teaching so far happened while she taught at SLPS.
“I once had a student who was really low in reading and he was embarrassed to try,” Whitfield recalled. “And so I really enjoyed working with him one-on-one to help him build his confidence. And then, probably about second semester, right when we came back from break, he raised his hand in class.”

I want students to know that I really pride myself on advocating for them”

— Erika Whitfield

While she hasn’t been able to teach this book in a class yet, Whitfield’s favorite novel is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.
“I just enjoy the story just because Siddhartha is going through all of these different changes to become this enlightened person, which is kind of like who we all are as people trying to become our best selves.”

Although this school year will be unorthodox, Whitfield is excited to create systems to help students get as much of a normal classroom experience as possible online.
“I want students to know that I really pride myself on advocating for them. And I pride myself on allowing them to advocate for themselves.”

Alyssa Overmann

Alyssa Overmann joins the CHS music department as the new band director


Erin Sucher-O' Grady

Alyssa Overmann has joined the Clayton High School staff as the band director

Alyssa Overmann first picked up the trumpet as a fourth-grader, in awe of jazz band and enraptured by the sound of brass instruments. Although playing an instrument serves more as a hobby for some, Overmann quickly found that she had a natural inclination toward the trumpet and persevered with the instrument since middle school through a combination of understanding the principle of perseverance and her enjoyment of making music.
“It’s one of those beliefs where you stick with one instrument and try to get really good at that one. I just stuck with it because I enjoyed it and tried to get really good at it,” recalled Overmann.
Overmann’s musical passion was in part cultivated by her high school band director, who she also cites as the inspiration for her decision to pursue teaching music as a career.
“I decided my sophomore year of high school that I wanted to give the same experiences, feelings and opportunities to other students,” said Overmann.
Upon graduating high school, Overmann attended Missouri State University, where she became fully immersed in music alongside other aspiring musician peers and music educators. This experience allowed Overmann endless options in different types of concert, jazz and symphonic bands, as well as travel experiences that took her across the world.
“It was cool to live music for that time period, and that’s pretty much all I did other than classes. We went to London and played and did a parade there, we did the Rose Bowl in California [and] we went to Texas to play for other college band directors.”
Although Overmann had the opportunity to play with Missouri State in multiple cities, she recalls her favorite music memory being a performance locally in Missouri, at the Missouri Music Educators Conference.
“We finished [the performance] and the seniors were getting ready to leave and everybody was just crying after that moment. It was the adrenaline rush and coming down off of it. It was pure love and togetherness and knowing that we did something really awesome.”
Since then, Overmann has been teaching at Alton High School in Illinois for the past 11 years and plays a range of brass instruments from her main instrument, trumpet, to trombone and tuba, in addition to a few woodwind instruments like flute and saxophone.
As an educator, Overmann has been aware of the CHS music department’s stellar reputation for quite some time.
“They have a history and tradition of being great,” said Overmann. “And so I’m excited to join that team. I’ve known [the other band directors] for a while, and I’m excited to get to work with them on a daily basis because I know they’re both really good performers and teachers, so to be able to collaborate with them is a very neat thing.”
Of course, achieving high levels of collaboration is a tough feat with the current situation of remote learning.
“This virtual platform makes it really kind of rough because music is such an in-person, personal thing. My go-to phrase is band online isn’t a thing. But we’ll make it a thing, right?” said Overmann.

My go-to phrase is band online isn’t a thing. But we’ll make it a thing, right?”

— Alyssa Overmann

Describing her teaching style as “pretty laid-back,” Overmann says her main goals this year are to get to know students, build relationships and maintain the high level of musical performance that CHS is known for, and she has plans to accomplish these despite any challenges presented by learning online. Overmann intends to utilize small-groups to allow students to continue to play their instruments and get helpful feedback from herself and other band directors.
“I’m gonna take the opportunity to just kind of meet everybody individually and just talk; just kind of get a feel for everybody and where they’re at,” said Overmann. “So that when we can finally get back together in-person, we’re ready to rock.”

Tai Oney

Tai Oney becomes Clayton High School’s new choir teacher


Tai Oney

Tai Oney, CHS’s new choir teacher, comes from an extensive background of music

“[Clayton’s] mission statement stood out to me right from the beginning,” said Tai Oney, new CHS choir director. “One of the phrases was to love learning and to challenge, and that’s what I like to do for my students.”
Oney comes from Concord Academy in Massachusetts, where he was the Director of Vocal Music. He has also sang professionally as a countertenor in operas for the last ten years.
“I first came to St. Louis in 2015, when I performed with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in one of their productions,” Oney said. “So I am very well aware of the St. Louis community and Clayton.”
While Oney holds a passion for music at heart, he hasn’t always wanted to pursue music as a career.
“When I first went to high school, I was fascinated with biology and anatomy,” Oney said. “I really wanted to become a doctor, more specifically an OBG/YN.”
He also considered being a psychologist or a music therapist, since he was interested in both medicine and music.
“Anything that’s kind of social and interactive,” Oney said. “Something that allows me to form relationships or to understand another person or their perspective. Those are the things I like.”
Oney’s music teacher in high school was the first to put the thought of music education in his mind.
“She really taught me the nuances of music, the history and the theory, how it works, and how it connects to society as a whole,” Oney said. “I became really intrigued and decided that I wanted to major in music education.”
While Oney eventually decided to pursue the route of performing during his masters degree, he has always been a teacher at heart.
“I’ve always enjoyed sharing the knowledge and the gift that I have [in music] with others and seeing that light bulb kind of spark and go off in people, and just allowing others to have fun and enjoy it,” Oney said.

I think it’s also important that there is student voice, and at times definitely student choice”

— Tai Oney

As a teacher, Oney values student voice heavily and looks forward to a classroom with open communication and collaborative experiences.
“ I mean, I have my ideas and my opinions and my experiences that I bring to the table. But I think it’s also important that there is student voice, and at times definitely student choice,” Oney said. “That doesn’t mean that I’m choosing everything or students are choosing everything. It’s just having that dialogue and having that communication line open for students to be able to say, ‘I would love to be able to try this out.’. And I may say, okay, that’s great. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t. Or I may say, you know what, it’s probably best to do it this way. For now, let’s just try this way and then see if it evolves into something that sparks your interest. I like students to try new things, and I think if there’s a dialogue that’s going on and I’m not doing all the picking and students aren’t doing all the picking, then I think that’s when success comes in.”
Most of all, Oney strives for students to be in control of their own learning.
“I teach students to become teachers,” Oney said.
Outside of school, Oney is a big lover for games, especially board games and card games. He also enjoys working in the yard, cooking, and hanging out with friends.
“But mostly music,” Oney said. “I like to share that passion with others and I like to continue having it to fulfill my life.”

Eric Hahn

Eric Hahn, an avid beekeeper and an ex-Ladue teacher, is now a history teacher at CHS


Eric Hahn

Eric Hahn, an avid beekeeper, is a new CHS history teacher

Incoming CHS history teacher Eric Hahn has about 80,000 bees in his backyard, from which he has collected over 160 pounds of honey this year.
“My interest [in bees] started in high school,” Hahn said. “I was at a party and the owner had an observation hive against their kitchen window, and I was just fascinated by the bees. I thought about it on and off until six or seven years ago, when it sounded pretty easy to start beekeeping. So my hobby is backyard beekeeping now.”
While his interest in beekeeping began in high school, his interest in teaching did not. However, after having worked with an outdoors education program with kids in college, Hahn discovered that he actually liked working with the students much more than the outdoor education piece.
“I did a little inventory on myself, and social studies was definitely the best fit for me in terms of competency and interest,” Hahn said. “So I went back and got a master’s in teaching, and that’s how it all evolved.”
Hahn first started teaching at Metropolitan High School, which no longer exists, as a special education teacher. However, he was forced to give up the position after three years, as he found out that he was constantly in burnout mode and he was taking on burdens too heavy for him at the moment.
“I love special education personally, but I realized that it was very challenging for me,” Hahn said. “Which is why I have so much respect for special education and special education teachers now.”
For the next 27 years, Hahn taught mostly Advanced Placement US History and Advanced Placement World History at Ladue Horton Watkins High School until his retirement in 2017.
Aside from teaching, Hahn works on curriculum writing for publishers, and he holds professional development and teacher workshops.

it’s a win win [when Clayton] offered me this position, Clayton wanted a part time teacher for World History, and I wanted my own classroom.”

— Eric Hahn

“It’s a little bit weird for me to not be teaching in my own classroom while doing those things, so it’s a win win [when Clayton] offered me this position,” Hahn said. “Clayton wanted a part time teacher for World History, and I wanted my own classroom. And I’m still loving the profession.”
Since classes are moved online for the first part of the school year, there are many new challenges for teachers to adjust their curriculum to the online format. Hahn, however, is very excited for the new year to begin.
“I have lots of fun ideas for working online; [ways to] engage students and make our classes relevant to the current world,” Hahn said.
As a history teacher, Hahn believes that a subject should be, first of all, enjoyable, it should be relevant, and it should have the right amount of challenge.
“My hope is that with social studies, students can become global engaged citizens,” Hahn said. “This understanding is what keeps me in teaching.”

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