WEST ORANGE, NJ — Durango is in the southwest corner of the Colorado, a short distance from the New Mexico border. Four and a half hours from the nearest interstate highway and a 31-hour drive from West Orange, Durango is the home of West Orange native Stephanie Moran, who has headed the Durango Adult Education Center for the last 18 years. During that time, she has helped hundreds of students earn their GED diplomas, and the end of May saw her celebrate her retirement from teaching.
A long way from her hometown, Moran ended up in Colorado after her husband took a teaching job in the state. Before that, she had been studying to be a psychiatric nurse in the San Francisco and Berkeley area of California, then worked as a lab technician in Napa and Sonoma. When she moved to Colorado, Moran decided to switch gears and go back to school, majoring in English and elementary education at the University of Northern Colorado.
“It’s been good, I’ve never looked back,” Moran told the West Orange Chronicle in a phone interview on May 24. “You have an opportunity to make a difference. It’s an entirely different job, but it isn’t hard if you’re willing to be good at it. If I’d stayed, I might have been the nurse who took it home, but I’m able to effect change this way.”
Initially, Moran and her husband, Andrew Gulliford, didn’t stay put when they moved to Colorado. After teaching elementary and middle school in Parachute, Colorado, Moran earned a master’s degree in English from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. From there, she went on to teach in Tennessee and New Mexico. She and Gulliford have lived in Durango since 2000.
The difference between Colorado and New Jersey is pretty obvious, according to Moran.
“I love the ocean, but New Jersey is crowded for me,” she joked. “When I go back to see family, I feel like I’m about to do battle. There’s nature all around here.”
But Moran still has some of her old New Jersey habits. She had to adjust to a slower-paced area of the country when she headed west.
“I talk fast and I walk fast,” Moran said. “I interrupt a lot, which I think might come from having seven siblings. But I taught myself to listen. I’m a good waiter, I can wait through the silence.”
Moran wasn’t always a model student while growing up in West Orange, but had her first taste of helping someone learn while a student at West Orange Mountain High School.
“We would leave school and go to the park and not go back,” she said. “One of my friends was having trouble, and a teacher said ‘If you promise to bring people back, I’ll help her graduate.’ And she did, so that was worthwhile.”
In high school in the early 1970s, Moran said there was a lot going on in terms of social and political changes. She remembers going to marches and protests in town.
Since becoming a teacher Moran has taught children, but recently has primarily worked with adults. The Durango Adult Education Center helps adults who never graduated from high school accomplish that milestone, as well as provide classes to inmates at La Plata County Jail. It’s a little different than teaching middle school, but gives people who might not have had a chance to learn otherwise a chance to do so.
“You have students of every social and economic background,” Moran said. “Adults come in and have goals. They have families and jobs and they have problems that we can help them with.”
Now that she won’t be in the classroom full time anymore, Moran plans to spend more time volunteering and traveling. She has been a member of the Durango District 9-R School Board since 2012, and will continue to work with the district. She also plans to spend more time advocating for gun control.
“I’m on the school board and I’ll continue to be involved with that and work with students,” Moran said. “I want to work on gun violence awareness and keeping them out of schools. My husband travels and speaks a lot, so I’ll spend some time with him — he’s pretty fun. I’m going to catch up on my life; I’m learning how to be and not do.”