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The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

A HISTORICAL RUN: Social science teacher to retire upon completing his 32nd year at the Hill

Chloe Kang
Social science teacher Patrick Debacker instructs his third period Advanced Placement Human Geography class as the students prepare to take their Wednesday, April 5, test. Debacker will retire at the end of this semester.

A geographical information system [GIS] can store, visualize, analyze and interpret the Earth’s geographical data. 

But it cannot track the unexpected path of social science teacher Patrick Debacker, who took many unexpected turns in his career. 

Now, 32 years later, the road is taking him to his retirement.

“I can’t imagine telling my younger self that you’re going to be a teacher,” Debacker said. “If I told myself in my 20s that I would be in the same [workplace] for my entire life, I would say, ‘You are crazy.’”

From getting suspended from Spring Branch High School for protesting against the Vietnam War to moving to Clear Creek High School — where he eventually got his General Educational Development diploma in 1975 — the social science teacher said his journey has been rocky.

Born as a Texan, the social science teacher took a detour to Florida before moving to California in 1979 per the advice of his parents. It was here where Debacker pinpointed the location he would spend 32 years working: Sunny Hills High School.

“I didn’t really have any idea that I would be here 30-something years later retiring from the same place … It just happened,” he said. “I don’t know if it would have been like at other schools, but at Sunny Hills, the kids were great, and they seemed to enjoy my class.”

He only started working at Sunny Hills because he encountered a problem studying geography while completing graduate school at California State University, Fullerton, in 1991. 

“[The dean of the geography department] had made promises to me about data and computer systems necessary to do GIS, so I thought, ‘I’ll just do this for a while, and then I’ll go back to graduate school’,” the social science teacher said. “My idea was to get a Ph.D. in geography and become a college professor. Then I got here, and I actually liked it.” 

Though Debacker said he had reached the minimum age for retirement, he selected the 2022-2023 school year as his last to accommodate his wife’s career. The Marriott hotel executive training program hired his wife to work as an employee in Tucson, Arizona, this September. 

This opportunity came after she earned her bachelor’s degree in hotel management in 2022 from California Polytechnic School in Pomona. She said she was only able to push herself to pursue her education after marrying Debacker, and being influenced by his work. 

“She says ‘it’s all because of you,’ but I say no,” about his wife, who was the first to go to college in her family. “I just helped inspire and push her.”

During his tenure here, Debacker taught three different social science courses: Advanced Placement Human Geography [APHUG], AP U.S. History [APUSH] and AP European History [AP Euro]. This school year, he has four APHUG classes and one section of AP Euro.

“I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “I’ve taught three classes that I love to teach.” 

Senior Ryan Evalle, who had the social science teacher his sophomore year for AP European History, said he remembers how being in this class changed the way he thought about history.

“I learned from him that history isn’t just a story you tell — it’s something you remember and can refer back to whenever you need it,” Evalle said. “Every moment that we live is going into history books right now.” 

Sophomore Sophia Kiker, who took APHUG with Debacker last year and continued with him this year in his AP Euro class, was hoping that he would be around next year when she enrolls in APUSH.

“I kind of had an idea he was going to retire, but I was still sad because I learned a lot from his lessons, and other people can’t learn from him,” Kiker said. “But I’m happy he can take a break and retire.”

Although his teaching journey came unexpectedly, the social science teacher said his favorite thing is to hear from former students that he served as a source of inspiration for them.

“I had a kid who went to Yale and became one of the top money managers for the Alaska Permanent Fund, and they asked him during an interview who was his biggest inspiration out of all the professors he had,” Debacker said. “He said, ‘It was actually my high school history teacher.’”

Principal Craig Weinreich said he acknowledges the impact Debacker has left on the history department. 

“I’ve known Mr. Debacker for a long time as I was in the history department with him,” Weinreich said. “He’s just connected and left that legacy of just as a strong academic focus within the social science department.”

Social science teacher Robert Bradburn, who has been working with the retiring instructor for 25 years, agrees that Debacker left a mark on the department. 

“He’s well-prepared, knows the subject deeply, reads deeply and can illustrate his lessons with real-life examples,” Bradburn said. “He’s expanded my teaching abilities by constantly discussing the curriculum because he’s truly interested in it.”

Debacker said he plans to hike in the deserts of Arizona for a year while his wife works and then vacation to the Philippines for at least a month as well as to travel to places like Bali and Vietnam.

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Giselle Suastegui
Giselle Suastegui, Feature Editor
Serving her first year on staff, senior Giselle Suastegui is excited to take on her role as co-feature editor for The Accolade alongside her colleague Alexxa Berumen. After finally being able to take Journalism 1 her junior year, she hopes to navigate the newspaper voyage and aims to grow, not only as a writer but as a person, as she balances rigorous courses and takes on new responsibilities this year. When not working for The Accolade, you can find her leading other school clubs, watching Netflix or hanging out with friends.
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