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In school all her life, Mrs. Ricketts to retire

by Annette Beard | April 18, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.
Annette Beard/Pea Ridge TIMES Andrea Ricketts is retiring after being in Pea Ridge schools — as a student and a teacher — for many decades.

Andrea Ricketts has been going to Pea Ridge schools for half a century -- first as a student, then as a teacher.

"I didn't really intend to teach at Pea Ridge," the long-time physical education teacher said. "It just kind of happened."

The youngest daughter of Fred and Mabel McKinney, Andrea grew up close to the school attended by her parents and her elder brother and sisters. All the classes were in one building on the downtown campus. She graduated from Pea Ridge High School in 1980 as one of 52 graduates and went to the University of Arkansas on a piano scholarship, starting college as a music major. Halfway through her second semester, she changed her major deciding she wanted to be a coach. She earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and was hired for the 1985-1986 school year in Pea Ridge as her first job out of college.

"I really wanted to go to Springdale," she recalled, saying that she graduated in December, moved back home that spring and substitute taught in Pea Ridge.

"It was odd, my first job here was band and choir director," she said, laughingly explaining that the superintendent knew she had a background in music.

Then, she taught social studies going from classroom to classroom. She said she even taught in the "little white house" for a time.

"Technically, I've taught every grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade" over the years, she said, explaining that in her first few years, she taught seventh- through 12th grade band and choir, then high school social studies, then went to elementary PE which was K-6th.

As a student in high school, she played basketball "because that's all they had for girls -- either played basketball or cheer."

And basketball was six-man half-court basketball.

"My senior year was first year we got to play full court basketball," she said, recalling that she played basketball from the eighth grade on.

As a teacher, she has seen more sports programs added and she was the first softball coach.

"We played slow pitch softball -- it was just another opportunity for sports for the girls," she said.

"I was so excited when I found about it," she said. "I only coached for three years. Heather (Henson) Wade and Courtney (Brown) Hurst were on my team. Courtney was pitcher; Heather was shortstop; Brandy Knight was first base. I had a heck of team! George Parnell was assistant coach."

She said when the team moved to fast pitch, she said they needed to find someone who can coach that.

"Just the idea that we got to play was great. The first two years went to state tournament. The third year we got beat out in regionals. That was pretty cool," she said.

"Growth, my goodness, you see how the school has grown," she said. "We went from whatever we had in 1985, one school, one campus to five campuses across town."

"When I started, we were maybe 800 students from kindergarten through 12th grade."

Now, with the growth, there are more athletic opportunities for the girls including volleyball and track.

"I keep waiting for soccer," she said, adding that her intern is teaching a unit on soccer.

She said there is not a set curriculum in the state for physical education.

"Anything I've done over the years ahs been me coming up with my lesson plans and I've had to decide how I want to do things.

"What I've done has depended a lot on where I'm at. I was outside for years because there was no inside facility. If it rained, we had to go inside a classroom," she said.

"When I started, I didn't have any equipment," she said, explaining that she encouraged children collecting box tops and Campbell's soup label collections to raise money for equipment. "A lot of parents helped, too."

"We have such good kids. The kids here at this school are good kids. I totally enjoy them," she said.

One difference she sees is that today's children are less active than she and her friends were.

"Back then, I was outside all the time, on my bike, doing something. I rode my bike all around this town, and it wasn't such a big deal ... I went everywhere on my bike," she said. "Everybody knew one another and they would report back."

Children now talk more about spending time on their electronics. As a PE teacher, she said she tries to get them to at least take a walk through their neighborhoods or walk their dog.

"They don't understand. They need to be taught because they're at home sitting in front of a screen, playing video games," she said. "It's a struggle. I see kids today who are so overweight and aren't very active."

She said she hopes her students will come out of her classes with knowledge that they need to take care of their bodies -- what they're eating and to be active 60 minutes a day.

She hosted the Heart Health events sponsored by the American Heart Association for many years as a way to encourage children to be active, get involved and raise money for the American Heart Association which provided a certificate to buy equipment for the school.

"After I started teaching, it probably took a few years to realize I was staying in Pea Ridge. I said I'm giving myself 10 years to find something else to do. After I started teaching, it just never really occurred to me to go anywhere else," she said.

Friends of hers working in the Rogers School District would try to encourage her to transfer there.

"Why? I'm not unhappy. I've fine here," she said.

To young people from Pea Ridge today, she offers this advice: "Whatever you think you're going to do out there, you can do right here. Just be proud of where you came from. If your family is here, be OK with being around your family."

She said she understands young people saying they want to get away, for her, that was going to Fayetteville for college.

"This was home. Even if I'd gone somewhere else, this was still home. I just didn't expect to get a job here," she said contemplatively. "It's fine if you want to go someplace, but always remember where you came from and don't be concerned if you end up back home.

"Embrace it and make yourself known. Do what you can do to make your community the best it can be. Be involved in your community and see what you can do to make it a better place."

Andrea married Harvey Ricketts, also a PRHS graduate, in 1988. They have two children, Amitty Fryar and Orren Ricketts, and three grandchildren, Paul Fryar, 19, Emma Fryar, 16, and Eion Fryar, 15.

Over the years, she has had all three grandchildren in PE classes.

And, now that her youngest grandchild is in ninth grade, she said her son-in-law says it's okay for her to retire.

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