Morenci Unified School District's new teachers, with a couple of returning veteran teachers, outside of the Morenci High School library on July 15. In the back row, from left to right: Joshua Salas, Amanda Davis, Amie Savage, Sheila Davis, Kayla Wright, Rhyanna Mennen, Jenna Chavez, Alyssa Murillo and Kelly Hadden. In the front row, from left to right: Valeria Villa, Becky Baumeister, Lilli Forgach, Etta Sechrest and Vanessa Jones.

As the next school year nears closer and closer, Morenci Unified School District is welcoming 13 new teachers and plenty of returning veteran teachers to the school district.

“Everything is new for us,” said Valeria Villa, an incoming special education and Spanish teacher.

Villa is coming to Morenci from Mexico via El Paso, Texas, where she taught as well.

After being given a tour of Morenci, Clifton and parts of the York Valley that the district serves, Villa said she was generally excited about working in the district, but a little nervous about moving from a city with a population of more than 600,000, to a county with a population of less than 10,000 people.

“Sometimes it feels very lonely,” Villa said.

She was seated at a table in the Morenci High School library during new teacher orientation with three other new teachers on July 15. Two of three grew up in Morenci, and both said Villa need not worry, people in Morenci are nice and welcoming.

“The people are so friendly,” said Alyssa Murillo, an incoming fifth grade teacher for the district, adding that because the community is so small, new people to the community eventually have to “open their bubble” and get to know everyone in the community.

Murillo grew up in Morenci and attended Morenci High. Having just graduated from Northern Arizona University, Murillo just got a call from the district offering her the job just two weeks ago.

“I’m nervous, but excited,” Murillo said, “but I know that a lot of people are here to support me.”

People like the teachers who taught her.

Seated at a table behind Murillo was Amanda Davis and Jenna Navarrete, two veteran teachers and Morenci High School alums.

“Words of advice are to ask for help,” said Davis, who’s taught off and on for about nine years at the school. She added that teachers in the district always look out for each other and have each other’s backs.

Coming from a fourth or fifth generation mining family, Davis said family, friends and community ties are strong in Morenci.

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Navarrete agreed and said community and familial ties have kept her in Morenci and in Morenci schools.

Navarrete has taught at the school for 19 years. Both of her parents worked at the school as well, one as a counselor and the other as a teacher who taught Davis.

“I think part of our tradition is to come back for family, Vanessa Jones, an incoming kindergarten teacher. “It’s a big family.”

Jones’ father works for Freeport-McMoRan and Phelps Dodge before that. She grew up in Morenci, lived in Safford for a few years and then lived and worked in Texas for a few years until she decided it was time to move back to Morenci.

“Being so far away,” Jones said about living in Texas, “we experience so much culture that we wouldn’t have experienced here, but there’s something different here. You’re Morenci related here,” which Jones described as both being related by family ties and being part of a larger community family.

That community is what attracted Etta Sechrest to return to the district after retiring. Sechrest, who’s originally from North Carolina, taught seventh grade science at the district for five year before retiring last year.

After hearing the district needed someone to teach seventh grade science again, Sechrest agreed to go back into teaching, which she said felt like coming back home.

She’s always been impressed by the resources and technology that the school has available for teachers and students, something that she said that a lot of other districts don’t have, Sechrest said.

“It’s a Wildcat family,” Sechrest said. “Everyone works together, you don’t hesitate.”

Shelia Davis moved to Morenci from Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo Nation when her husband got a job at the mine. Davis has lived in town for 15 years now and raised a family. Davis subbed in the school district as she worked to get her teaching credential. Davis contemplated moving with her family, but she ultimately decided to stay in town because her son wanted to play baseball for the seventh grade team.

“Once you get to know people it starts to feel like home, and you won’t ever want to leave,” Davis said.

Davis will start teaching seventh grade English language arts when school reopens on July 28.

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