Pam Raiford’s days began at 4:30 a.m., and she often worked late into the night and on weekends. Dedicated to her career as a social studies teacher at Oyster River High School, she was always studying to stay on top of innovations in her field, says her husband, Guy Capecelatro III ’89.
Her popular “Power of One” project is just one of many fresh approaches Pam brought to learning. The project asks freshmen students to identify and educate themselves about an important cause and then find ways to increase awareness of that cause. Their research culminates in a formal, public presentation that not only educates parents and friends, it also shows them how they as individuals can impact the world. Their wide-ranging topics have included the importance of eliminating plastic bags, the plight of Rwandan refugees and the post-war mental health of veterans. The project is just one of the creative approaches Pam took to education that won her the 2013 New Hampshire Social Studies Teacher of the Year Award.
Several years ago, Pam took leave from Oyster River to teach at UNH, a gig she returned to periodically. Although she had originally planned to earn a PhD and become a professor of history, high school teaching kept drawing her back. UNH Presidential Professor of History Janet Polasky wrote glowing recommendations for Pam to doctoral programs at prestigious universities, calling her the best student she had ever taught. But Pam had found her niche in high school teaching and ultimately decided not to pursue a doctorate.
“She would have been a brilliant professor of history, but it is as a high school teacher that she changed hundreds of lives...Her gentle guidance and enthusiasm, but above all her deep-seated humanity, comes through in her students.”
“She would have been a brilliant professor of history,” says Polasky, “but it is as a high school teacher that she changed hundreds of lives. I can tell when an Oyster River student comes into my class who has had Pam as a teacher. Her gentle guidance and enthusiasm, but above all her deep-seated humanity, comes through in her students.”
When Pam died of ovarian cancer on April 13, “The world lost a great one,” says associate professor of education Joseph Onosko. “I hope Pam’s spirit will continue to reverberate through the many people who knew, loved and learned from her.”
Oyster River social studies teacher and cross country coach Scott McGrath ’09, ’11G would count himself among those touched by Pam’s legacy. He interned with Pam and now teaches in the classroom that was once hers. “It’s an honor to be teaching in the space where I once learned from Pam,” he says. “I’m the teacher I am today because of her.”
Another former intern, Dave Hawley ’03G, remembers Pam’s sense of humor. He often carpooled with her, and while it might have been early morning on a snowy winter day, “We always laughed all the way to school,” he says. “She had an openness about her that was very engaging.” Perhaps her personality is best described by a student who admired her for being “so anti-mean,” adds Hawley. “That’s true. She did not have a mean bone in her body.”
Pam and fellow teacher Brian Zottoli ’02G, ’14G were once among those attending Boot Camp for Teachers at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina. For four days they lived the life of a U.S. Marine, including firing weapons and “getting yelled at by drill instructors,” says Zottoli. Pam was all-in and interested in having a first-hand look at what military training entailed. “She had an open mind about everything,” he says.
Pam loved being outdoors, says Guy, and during the 27 years they were together they often relaxed by hiking and playing Ultimate Frisbee. Despite her busy schedule, she always found time to spend with her family and friends. But her real legacy, say those she left behind, is the students she nurtured and loved and sent into the world knowing they could make a difference.
Originally published in UNH Magazine Winter 2018 Issue
What a sad day when Pam Raiford left this earth! Pam and I became collegial friends when she invited me into her social studies classes to teach meditation to her students. From the moment I met Pam and stepped into her classroom, I knew I was in the company of a very extraordinary person. Her classroom was a safe space and one that reflected social studies in a way that I had never seen before. The room was aglow with creativity and expressions of history, diversity and inclusion that were life affirming. Her spirit reflected a celebration of life, and her students adored her. Pam's passing is a tremendous loss to so many of us.
—Peter Welch ’83, ’87G