Mr. Somerville: A North Kingstown High School Tradition

Sabrina Fiore, Features Editor

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The joy of seeing Mr. Kevin Somerville in class, with his hearty guffaw and amusing stories, is a sight familiar to North Kingstown High School students. But how does Mr. Somerville view himself and his role in the North Kingstown community?

“For thirty years, I was a self-employed medical illustrator, with very little social interaction, and, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a chatty cathy! I enjoy seeing the different personalities, the aspirations.” said Somerville.

A graduate of Duke University and with a Masters of Science Degree in Medical Illustration from the Medical College of Georgia, Mr. Somerville has worked as a substitute teacher in North Kingstown since 2011, and this is the Mr. Somerville students know and love best. As he says himself, students sometimes use him as a confidant to turn to for sage advice, an easy image to picture given his ability to welcome all students into conversations during his classes.

“I’m here as a sounding board… It’s not that I’m a wise old man, but you live to be 65 years old, you have enough life experience!”  

It is this life wisdom Mr. Somerville applies to dealing with misbehaving students as well. Unlike other substitute teachers, he seeks to understand these students, saying, “Once you get to know them, you talk to them, they’re actually really decent people.” This is but one of the reasons he is so loved throughout the high school; rather than punish his students, he makes the effort, and takes the time, to listen to and help them.

Another secret to keeping classes running smoothly: his well-known sense of humor. Students across the building recognize his Santa Claus-like chuckle and his natural gift for storytelling. He says, “I have a bizarre, weird, left-of-center sense of humor. I find you can diffuse a lot of situations if you exhibit a sense of humor. High school kids appreciate a sense of sarcasm, they use it themselves.” Jokingly he adds, “When you walk into the classroom, they look at you like, ‘Are we going to need a defibrillator, cause you’re getting up there!’” With this humor Mr. Somerville not only gets his students to like him, but to respect him as well.

He also remarks on the moments when his sarcasm does not quite meet its target. “I find it very amusing, if I’m trying to be sarcastic, an expression comes out of my mouth, and I realize, they aren’t gonna have a  clue what I’m talking about. Expressions like, ‘I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck’, or, ‘its no skin off my nose!’ They’re always like, what are you talking about? In other words, I don’t care!” Sharing this story he laughs, adding, “I’m an old fogie, you know!”

Mr. Somerville shares another anecdote involving language and expressions the younger generation does understand. “I’ve seen the ‘F’ word turned into a noun, an adjective, an adverb! One day I was circulating around the classroom, and someone let loose with it, I don’t know who it was, and I said ‘I don’t want to hear that word. But there is one word that starts with and ‘f’ and ends with a ‘ck’ that I will tolerate. That word is firetruck!’ They’re thinking, ‘isn’t he cool!’ No, he’s not!”

“The whole rest of the year, I’d hear firetruck! Everyone would start laughing. On  Christmas, we were having a little party, playing hangman. And they start spelling the word. You know what it is. It’s my favorite word in this class!”

Over the course of his long-term substitute teaching, Mr. Somerville has had the opportunity for other class jokes and relationships to form, such as this story. Referring to one of the funniest incidents that have happened in his time working at North Kingstown, he says, “I was a long term substitute for Mrs. Improta-Young, she was out on maternity leave. We were discussing biomes, vegetation, taiga, and I just sort of threw out a question, what is the predominant form of vegetation in this or that biome. One student, he shouted out, ‘Carnivorous trees!’ Now, he meant coniferous trees, not as in carnivore! And then whenever I’d see him in the hall I’d say, ‘Watch out for those carnivorous trees!’

These two anecdotes sum up well what makes Mr. Somerville so loved and respected as a substitute teacher by his students. Merging his quick wit and his natural ability to form relationships with his students, in a way that few other substitute teachers really can, or would bother to do. Mr. Somerville is a true North Kingstown High School tradition, a friendly face to offer a kind smile in the hallways or an amusing story in the classroom to brighten your day.

At the end of the interview, Mr. Somerville signs off with a laugh, “Hopefully I’ll be around for another 35 years!”

The students of North Kingstown High School agree.


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