Updated: May 2
This month’s Difference Maker is not only impacting our youth in the classroom as a sixth-grade math teacher at Eagle Valley Middle School, but she also coaches sixth-grade boys and girls basketball and high school softball at Eagle Valley High School. Patience and encouragement encompass Shelby Partridge’s dedication to young people. She advocates for our youth to be themselves and to follow their passions.
Shelby grew up just outside of Omaha, Nebraska. Lucky enough to grow up vacationing in Beaver Creek as a teenager, she knew very quickly that the mountains would be her home someday. After teaching for a year in Omaha, Shelby decided to move to Avon, not knowing a single soul here. It was one of the best decisions she ever made! Shelby wasn’t sure she would call this place home for very long, but here she is five years later. Shelby and her wife have rooted themselves in this community, and both have been welcomed with open arms, making connections with a lasting impression.
Shelby knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher. She would make her siblings sit at their makeshift desks in their playroom and “teach” them how to read and write. She acknowledges this significant love of learning and a zest for helping others.
Sports were some of the few places where Shelby felt a sense of belonging. For many reasons, she had low self-worth and self-esteem. Athletics were her outlet, and she is forever grateful for that.
“My teachers and coaches were such an influential part of my life; they truly shaped me into the person I am today. Because of this, I strive to be the best version of myself in front of the kids I teach and coach. I think they make me a better person,” Shelby declares. The primary motivators for serving youth today, for Shelby, are the kids who inspire her to do better and to be better. She describes, “They truly are incredible, and I love being around them and learning from them. They remind me to enjoy life’s moments, embrace my weirdness, and never stop learning.”
Middle school was the most challenging part of Shelby’s life, and because of this, teaching and coaching middle schoolers bring her great motivation. “If I can have an impact on just one kid who is going through the tough times that middle school can bring, then it’s all worth it,” Shelby says admirably.
Shelby believes that mental health and social-emotional wellness are such a huge part of the conversation in our community, and she is grateful that these complex dialogues are emerging. “There are still large disparities among minorities and diverse populations, but I think the plethora of resource organizations in Eagle County are working toward narrowing that gap,” Shelby says.
Supporting the LGBTQ+ community is one of Shelby’s biggest passions. “I strive to build an inclusive, safe, and welcoming classroom where all kids feel important and accepted.” She is the founder and co-sponsor of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Eagle Valley Middle School. Being new to the valley, it was a scary thing to start as there were very few GSAs. She appreciates the support of the administration at Eagle Valley Middle for making this group successful. At first, Shelby was grateful for a handful of students that showed up to the meetings, and now she has over twenty active youth serving in the alliance. “This may be the only safe space for our youth to feel like they belong. Whether they show up for donuts, socialization, advocacy, or anywhere in between, they are accepted and loved,” Shelby shares.
The most important advice Shelby has for today’s youth is to “Be Yourself.” She shares a great piece of wisdom, “I spent a lot of years pretending, hiding, feeling unworthy, uncomfortable in my own skin. It was a waste of time and energy. Don’t waste a single moment in this life not being authentic. There is a reason you are you… no one else can be you!”
Professionally, Shelby feels blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from incredible people. One of her high school teachers, Dr. Kelly Gomez-Johnson, inspired her to love math, coaching, and teaching. She is also where she is today because of Dr. Katie Jarnot’s mentorship. She taught Shelby a lot about building respect, trust, and leadership. Katie encouraged her to be authentic and create inclusive spaces in classrooms. There are countless others, too many to write about, in Shelby’s life that have shaped the authenticity of who Shelby is today.
Our youth have faced challenging yet innovative times in learning, and development-and teachers have been at the heart of it all! Teachers and coaches like Shelby are doing the hard work and making a difference. Through some adversity and the challenges of her own middle school experiences, Shelby has developed an ability to inspire hope, influence individuality, and create safe spaces for young people to thrive.