STILLWATER, Minn. — Thursday morning at Stillwater High School, the hallways were already dampened with silence as school was winding down for summer.
Teachers were still around, wrapping up their last staff meeting for the school year. Still tasked with entering final grades, and cleaning up the classrooms, some teachers like Mr. Weaver couldn't help but reflect.
"This has been a great gig," he said. "I know folks who have a tougher job than me."
Andy Weaver, one of the science teachers at the high school for 33 years, said he was grateful for his choice of area of expertise.
"If I was teaching consumer math for instance, and I didn't have all kinds of critters and stories and things to bring in, that would be a hard gig," he said. "Maybe I'd feel different retiring."
Weaver was known as the teacher who was flanked by some kind of animal for most of his time there. Mainly, the peregrine falcon, one of the Founding Feathers of Weaver's biggest legacy at the school.
More than two decades ago, Weaver said he took a chance on combing his passion of falconry as well as education by asking the district for permission to apply for a grant to build the "Raptor Propagation Lab."
To his surprise, the district said yes, and the lab was born in an enclosed area within the school.
Conservation and restoration of falcons was work only a licensed master falconer/high school teacher could do. It's known to be one of the first, if not the only kind of educational experience offered at an American high school.
"I built the facility, falconers donated birds and we hoped we'd get some fertile eggs, we did," Weaver said. "Second and third year, we got fertile eggs, raised little chicks in the classroom about 12 days, put a U.S. Fish and Wildlife band on it, put it back with the parents. That was just my own passion. I always loved raptors, so I thought why not?"
He treated those birds, with a mother's kind of love. Weaver's wife Sandy, can confirm with so many stories that seem somewhat ridiculous in hindsight.
"Feeding the chicks at home on the counter where we prepare our own food and eat," she said. "They're like this big and he's feeding them ground quail with -- forceps? And talking to them, 'chip, chip, chip,' to open their mouths like he's their mother."
That kind of tenderness led to many like Pickles, the peregrine falcon. She is one of 106 babies born and raised at the high school over the years.
"When she was hatched, my daughters named her Pickles, Pickles the Peregrine," Andy said. "So she's been with me as a falconing bird, she's been with me as a breeding falcon and now she'll finish her career as an ambassador bird for education."
As Weaver leaves his nest, Pickles did, too, along with three others. Weaver said he released two males in the North Shore, where they were originally captured.
"Another female peregrine falcon we sent to the Wildlife Science Center up in Stacy," he said.
He couldn't deny that his career had been a bountiful one, filled with life and love. The high school also happens to be where he met Sandy, who was a school counselor for decades. Sandy beat Andy to retirement by one year.
"I don't see any issues with him finding stuff to do," she said. "I do think it's going to be really different to not come here next fall."
"You're the 'old science teacher' you know," Sandy joked. "You're the one that's not there anymore."
"We're not old; we got plenty of years to enjoy ourselves," she added.
Those years are built on a legacy at Stillwater. They're not defined by years of service, or even by eggs hatched. They're defined by lives touched.
"I receive, I think all teachers receive a fair amount of energy from those kids," Weaver said. "That's the part I'll miss the most — great kids, respectful. Kids walk out and they're like, 'Thank you, Mr. Weaver!' And I'm like, That's pretty awesome.'"
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