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No Retiring from Dedication

After 30 years as a third grade teacher, retirement could not stop Jill Herrick from remaining an educator. She founded a mini-grant program to help teachers fund hands-on projects, and an awards program for third graders who "work their tails off." Included: Ideas for how retired teachers can continue to contribute to education.

When Jill Herrick was a third grade teacher, one of her students developed an interest in the stock market. Herrick thought it would be great if every child chipped in a dollar so the class could buy one share of stock and then follow its daily progress. Herrick envisioned all kinds of lessons related to the stock market.

"If we had bought stock, we could have studied arithmetic, graphing, the history of the market, supply and demand, and negative numbers," Herrick told Education World. "The students would have had automatic motivation and interest if they had had money invested."

But when Herrick approached a broker about buying a single share of stock, he said the size of the fees made it impractical to purchase just one share. "I felt rejected and disappointed," Herrick told Education World. "I thought it would be great if I had a spare $500 or $1,000 to buy stock. I just never forgot that."


Herrick, who retired in 1995 from Big Creek Elementary School after teaching third grade in the Berea (Ohio) City School District for 30 years, was certain that a lot of teachers like her had innovative projects they wanted to share with students -- but didn't have the money to implement them.

So nine years ago, she started the Jill Herrick Mini-Grant program, and now, every year, she screens applications from about 20 Berea teachers seeking funding for classroom enrichment projects. If she decides not to fund a project, Herrick tries to recommend to the teacher an alternative funding source.

"This opens the door for opportunities kids normally would not have," said Mark Simon, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Riveredge Elementary School, a multi-age school. "These programs would not have a chance without people like Jill."


Herrick's dedication to teaching and her gratitude to the school system, her former teachers, and her own parents -- her first teachers -- were among her reasons for launching the mini-grant and other programs after she retired. Among the requirements for a project are that students must stay involved in hands-on and/or real-life activities and the teacher must describe the educational value of the project.

Herrick created the mini-grant application, and she screens all submissions herself. To make the application process more user-friendly, a teacher also can apply just by writing a lesson plan and providing a cost estimate for his or her project.

Elementary school teachers submit the bulk of applications, followed by middle school teachers. Among Herrick's favorite projects to date:

  • A second grade teacher wanted books for each student at easy, middle, and difficult reading levels, so she would have supplemental material for each level of reading. The teacher prepared packets with books and activities, and each child takes home a packet for a week. They rotate so each child gets to use each packet. The teacher created the package system so students could take everything home and work with parents on reading and activities. "I love to see the parent involvement," Herrick said.
  • A high school orchestra teacher, whose neighbor writes music, wanted the neighbor to help students compose a symphony. The music teacher used the mini-grant money to pay the musician to help the students write the symphony. "I just thought it was wonderful; the students are getting some music theory, and who knows, some of the kids might go on to study music in college," said Herrick.


Other teachers who have received mini-grants say Herrick has made it possible, in times of tight finances, for them to extend students' learning beyond the classroom.

Simon, the fourth-fifth grade teacher quoted above, has used mini-grant funds for the past three years to help send about 100 students, 25 parents, and 16 teachers on an overnight trip to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The cost of the biennial trip is about $35 per student, and the grant, along with other funding sources, make it affordable in a school in which about half the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, Simon said.

"The grant is perfect for us," Simon told Education World. "We need the money up front, and the museum correlates its programs with the fourth grade state proficiency tests and our teaching objectives. The project ties in with the curriculum and provides hands-on science lessons."

Valerie Cooper, who teaches seventh grade reading and mathematics at Ford Middle School, has received two mini-grants, both of which allowed her to work with colleagues on interdisciplinary units. In one project, which involved teaching students to play chess, art and reading teachers joined with Cooper to design chess boards and read with students non-fiction books about chess.

Planning the unit and writing the grant application forced the team to focus on curricular objectives, Cooper told Education World.

For the second project, Cooper received money to expand an existing unit on market economics. In that unit, more than 220 seventh-graders from two middle school teams participated in lectures, games, and simulations about market forces and investment, she said.

"My experience with Jill is that she supports the grant recipient throughout the process," Cooper said. "After a grant is awarded, Jill helps find sources for supplies, brings supplementary materials, and attends lessons and activity sessions. She also is available during planning and implementation as her schedule permits. For the market unit, Jill provided us with funding for paper, printing, and tools that our school district could not supply. She collected prospectuses from corporations, and shopped for supplies -- for our other units as well as for the stock market unit."

Janet Luken , an art teacher at Midpark High School, said a mini-grant is allowing the 9-12 graders in her commercial art class to get hands-on experience creating a graphic -- illustrated -- novel about the school's community. The class plans to donate the book to the school's library.

The students will write and illustrate the novel, and in the process, learn planning, designing, writing, layout, lettering, illustrating, figure drawing, painting, and graphic design, Luken said.

Programs such as Herrick's are critical when school budgets are being slashed, Luken noted. "In periods of tight school finances such as now, art programs are often impacted dramatically. Funding and staffing have been cut by almost 50 percent in the past three years. Jill Herrick's mini-grant is crucial to meeting the academic needs of so many talented and intelligent students who crave more than just a 'proficiency test' education."


Herrick's involvement goes beyond providing grants, however; she also wants to provide encouragement. She founded the Jill Herrick Apple Award, which is given at the end of every year to one student in each third grade class at the school where she taught -- Big Creek Elementary. Apple stands for Attitude, Persistence, Progress, Learning, and Effort, and the award recognizes average students who are "working their tails off," as Herrick put it. Award winners receive an Apple keepsake, a certificate, and a children's dictionary.

"In our society, we pay attention to the 'A' kid, the sports kid, and the behavior problem. We never recognize the other kids, who are paying attention and staying on task. This is a way to recognize their efforts," said Herrick.

"The average is a big group. I was that Apple kid; the one in the middle who worked hard."


Herrick continued to work hard throughout her career. "Jill was an excellent teacher, with a high level of commitment to her students," said Berea superintendent of schools Dr. James V. Connell. "Since retiring, Jill has maintained the high level of commitment to the district, its students, and its staff."

Herrick said no one specifically inspired her to teach; she just loved children. She even spent about 20 of her teacher summer "vacations" working as a camp counselor.

Her favorite part of teaching, she said, was the 'I got it now' look in a child's eyes, "when you could see that light bulb go on, like when they understood something about fractions."

Third graders were the perfect age for her, Herrick added. "They are old enough that you can work with them, reason with them, joke with them; they can work independently, but they still need your help; and they're not smart-alecky. It's just a nice age. They are not too inhibited to say what they want. I had very positive experiences in the classroom. I was never in a rut."

After so many happy years in the classroom, adjusting to retirement has not been easy for Herrick, which is another reason she began volunteering. "I miss teaching terribly; I haven't adapted to retirement very well," she said. "I miss teaching and I miss the children. It really didn't feel like 30 years."

Herrick returns to her former school several times a year to teach certain units, and a permanent school display reminds everyone of her devotion to education; a container of one million bottle caps collected over 15 years. Herrick undertook the project to show children (and adults) what exactly a million of something looks like. The bottle caps will remain on display until 15 years after her death.

Herrick encourages other retired teachers to stay involved with their schools as well. Although not all retired teachers could afford to support a mini-grant program, most probably could sponsor a recognition program such as the Apple awards, she said.

"There's a dimension of the Jill Herrick grant that transcends financial support for a teaching idea," said Cooper. "Many teachers find that the 'culture of the school' stifles creativity and inhibits exploration. Jill herself counsels recipients and affirms student-centered planning and teaching. When state testing and state curricula squeeze out favorite units, Jill helps us connect our creative ideas with state requirements. Using the objectives-driven plans from our grant applications, Jill advocates for our ideas when administrators, parents, or other teachers challenge our projects. She puts her money -- and her heart -- into quality teaching."