When students, faculty and friends gather in the Media Arts Center at Palo Alto High School on Saturday to mark the passing of science teacher Kenyon Scott, they will be celebrating a man whose passion for teaching impacted many community members’ lives.
Mr. Scott passed away due to natural causes on the morning of Jan. 6, 2016, at his residence in Palo Alto. He was 60.
According to students, colleagues, and family, Scott was an optimistic, energetic man who always maintained a passion for teaching students in a classroom environment filled with infectious laugher. He cared for his students in a uniquely powerful way by celebrating each person as an individual.
“He was a really nice teacher who respected his students and treated them with patience and respect,” junior Spencer Wycoff said. “He was always with a smile and trying to make people happy in his class.”
One of Mr. Scott’s well-known and loved mantras, “trust and respect,” emphasized his philosophy of care between students and their teachers. On campus, he could be found actively participating in staff and school-wide events, annually drawing repeated chants of “Mr. Scott!” at the Staff Dance during Spirit Week. When he saw his students outside of the classroom, he never failed to greet them by name and give them a smile.
“I didn’t think of him as a teacher, but a really close friend,” senior Dami Bolarinwa said. “He was someone who I could talk to about problems.”
The Paly Voice sat down and spoke with one of his two daughters, Emily Scott, a special education instructional aide at Paly, about her father’s life growing up. Born on June 24, 1955, in San Jose, Mr. Scott’s dream job as a child was to be president of the United States. Rather than sleeping with a pillow, he spent most nights with Jojo, his beloved stuffed animal monkey, the younger Scott said, adding that she recalled that her father’s family made an appearance on one of the early episodes of Family Feud; the Scott family was eliminated after his brother Jon Scott was unable to correctly identify a Jewish holiday.
Mr. Scott could be found during his childhood summers working at Bay Meadows, a horse racing track in San Mateo that closed in 2008. He graduated from Pioneer High School in San Jose before attending the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in Earth Sciences.
Those who were close to him, especially his high school students, know just how attached he was to exploring the outdoors and spreading awareness about environmental issues. He rode his bike to Paly every morning alongside hundreds of students, even during the rainy season when many students would catch a ride with their parents during a downpour. In class, he wouldn’t hesitate to put lessons on hold to discuss and monitor current environmental events going on at a local or even international level. He valued the importance of not just teaching his students about the environment, but encouraging them to apply classroom lessons to the real world. Many of his extra credit assignments involved researching newsworthy environmental topics or going to the Palo Alto Baylands to explore natural habitats.
“When we would go on trips he would always stop and look at rocks,” Emily Scott recounted. “He was very into rocks and fossils.”
His first job teaching was at Charles Armstrong School in Belmont, a school for children with special needs, according to his daughter. It was during this time when he met his wife, Katherine, to whom he was married to for approximately 18 years until their divorce. Outside of teaching, he loved doing crossword puzzles, reading newspapers, discovering new music and playing games with his two daughters.
At Paly, he taught a variety of subjects including physics, chemistry, and most notably, Advanced Placement Environmental Science, popularly for over 18 years, beginning in 1985. According to his daughter, he left Paly in 1991 to work for Apple in the technology industry before returning to the classroom in 2003. He supervised numerous clubs over the course of his time at Paly, and was the Paly Environmental Club adviser at the time of his passing. He also served as Paly’s student activities director in the late 1980s.
“It’s a huge loss for our community and our school,” Paly principal Kim Diorio said. “He was a great man, great teacher. I’m personally going to miss him tremendously.”
In addition to his meaningful lessons in science, Mr. Scott will be widely remembered for his classroom traditions. On Friday afternoons, he would lead his classes in a “TGIF” chant to celebrate the beginning of the weekend. His most beloved teaching tradition is simply known as “The Clap.” To begin class, he would stand up in the front of the room and start clapping in a rhythm that his students would soon replicate in unison. After a few rounds of clapping, he would welcome his class and begin doing what he did best, helping high school students become not just smarter thinkers, but better people.
He is survived by his parents, Joan and Jerry Scott; sister Laurie Burmeister; brothers Joe and Jon Scott; daughters Emily and Elizabeth Scott; and his partner, Sara Tanous.
Students and colleagues say it will be a long time before we come across another teacher who leads the clap, spreads environmental optimism and inspires students the way Mr. Scott did.
“People loved him, and I don’t think he will be forgotten,” junior Emily Read said. “[Principal] Kim Diorio came to visit our class, and she was in tears. She was crying so hard, and I could see the connection that he had made being here for so long. He impacted so many people.”
Saturday’s celebration of life event for Mr. Scott, originally scheduled for the Quad but moved to the MAC out of concern for the weather, will begin at 2 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to wear blue and gold clothing, the colors of his alma mater, UC Berkeley.