Director of Opportunity School Central Campus and 44-year Amarillo resident
by Jennie Treadway-Miller | amarillomagonline.com
Sitting atop a tall file cabinet in her office, surrounded by pictures of her children and grandchildren, there is a plaque that reads: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain. For Pat Mathis, her dance occurs at Opportunity School.
Born in a little town outside Waco, Pat moved to Amarillo in 1965. She was 16 years old when she moved in with her aunt to finish high school. At the time, Amarillo was a town caught in segregation. As a young African American teenager, Pat couldn’t go to the theater and there were stores in which she couldn’t shop. Even her class textbooks were old hand-me-downs from when the other schools in town got new ones.
“All of that has changed,” she says. “Amarillo has grown so much in the past 40 years. It’s my home.”
After graduation, Pat began what would turn into a 40-year career – and still going strong – with Opportunity School, where the mission is to help young children, primarily from low-income families, succeed in school and in life. Her children, Vivian and Derek, were part of the inaugural class that started the school in 1969, and because she wasn’t ready to leave them yet, she volunteered in the classroom.
“I liked it so well that I went to the College of Santa Fe the summer of 1970. They were teaching the Montessori method there,” she recalls. “By the fall I started teaching.”
Additionally, Pat earned her Child Development Associate Credentials from Amarillo College and went on to teach for the next 33 years, along with every other job OS had to offer, until she finally became the director of the central campus in 2003.
“This is all I know. I am so committed,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I want these children to be lifelong learners and fit into society.”
Pat comes from a family of 13, all of whom live in Waco. Even when her children graduated from high school, both attended Amarillo College for a few semesters but went on to live in Waco. Four grandchildren and two great grandchildren later, Pat insists that Amarillo is the place she wants to be.
“My home is here, my church is here… My family wants me to come home, but I don’t know if I’ll ever go back,” she laughs. “People ask me why I live here. They say it’s windy, cold and dusty, but I’ve found that I have a lot to do here. There’s just enough social life for me. You never have to worry about traffic jams and you can be anywhere in 15 minutes.”
It’s just as well that Pat never moves away because her commitment and relationship to the community are strong. She makes it a point to stay connected to as many school families as possible, as well as be involved with civic organizations and keeping with her mission.
“I’ve made a difference in a lot of lives, and I’ve always felt like I had a purpose in this city,” she says. “It‘s my heart.”