Meet Stephen Ketter, PYC Geometry Teacher – and New U.S. Citizen!

On May 30, 2017, PYC geometry teacher and Out-of-School-Time math teacher, Stephen Ketter, became a U.S. citizen. Excerpts follow from our conversation about how he came to this country from Kenya, got his college degrees, became a teacher at PYC, and became a husband and father whose family will soon come to live with him in the United States.

JZ: What brought you to the U.S.?

SK: I knew the schools in the U.S. were better and more advanced. When I graduated from high school I applied to Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. There were many Kenyans there, including my two brothers. When I got to college, in 1999, I’d never actually seen a computer. And that was tough. In my first class, “Fundamentals of College Writing,” I was supposed to type an essay on the computer – which I’d never done! It was really stressful.

Mr. Ketter graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University with a double major in computer science and math in 2004. He later earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instructional Development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

JZ: Taking a leap forward from your college days, tell me about your “citizenship day” in May.

When I woke up that morning it finally became real to me: now I am to become a U.S. citizen! When I got to the RiverCentre in St. Paul there were already a lot of people there in a long line, and there was a woman directing us. “If you’re becoming a US citizen, join the line!” she shouted.

During the ceremony the main speaker, a judge, congratulated us for going through the long, sometimes painful immigration process. He told us that all of us in this country are immigrants, and he acknowledged that his dad was an immigrant from another country.

After the speech we all stood up to be sworn in. We raised our right hands and we took the oath – and then the whole house went wild! Everyone was so happy. It was really beautiful. We said the pledge of allegiance and were issued a certificate of U.S. Citizenship.

829 people were sworn in and 3,000 people witnessed the event. My mom and dad were there, and even some of my students from PYC came to witness the ceremony.

JZ: It’s hard to top that story, but you also have a story to tell about your work at PYC.

SK: This is the kind of job that doesn’t feel like a job … It’s a job that requires compassion, understanding and patience. You have to meet the kids where they’re at; spark an interest and then build from that.

In my classroom, I also use a lot of humor. The kids think I have a great sense of humor. (He laughs heartily.) They’re also really comfortable in my room, and they feel calm. Every student at PCYC has the potential to be successful. It’s my job as a teacher to help them reach that potential. I feel this every single day.

JZ: I understand your family is coming to join you in December. Tell us about them.

SK: I got married in Kenya in 2010. It was a beautiful wedding. The whole community came, which was about 2,000 people! It was like a convoy going from here to Shakopee!

I have a beautiful wife, Lucy. She’s a nurse at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, a sister city to Minneapolis. Moi Hospital is the Mayo Clinic of Kenya.

I have one boy, Ryan Ketter. He was born in 2012. I really miss him. I haven’t seen him for two years and seven months.

JZ: What will you teach your son about America?

SK: This is a country where there are no limits; where you can be what you want to be. I’ll want him to be a good citizen, and make a contribution to society. I will also emphasize the he should not forget his Kenyan culture and language … My little boy will have a better future in this country.

JZ: Do you have any fi nal thoughts to share?

SK: The beautiful thing about this country is that systems work and the laws work here. There are checks and balances. I want to thank PYC for having made me who I am. I’ve grown a great deal here. The kids and the staff have taught me a whole lot.

The U.S. has been good to me. I want to make a contribution to this country.

Indeed, Mr. Ketter already has.

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