Chalkboard Champion Freida Riley: She Was the Inspiration Behind the Rocket Boys

riley[1]One of the most amazing teachers ever was a West Virginia educator named Freida Joy Riley. This dedicated teacher is responsible for inspiring young students in a small coal mining town to pursue careers in NASA, and preparing them academically to succeed there.

Freida was born in 1937 in Squire, West Virginia, to J.F. and Sallie Beavers Riley. As a high school student, she attended Big Creek High School, where she was ranked first in her class. Following her high school graduation, she attended Concord College and then completed graduate work at Ohio State University and West Virginia University.

After college, Frieda was hired to teach at her alma mater, Big Creek High School in War, West Virginia. She worked there during the late 1950s and early 1960s teaching math, science, chemistry, and physics. As an educator, she was considered dynamic, but tough. She was widely known for her inspiring work with students, including Homer Hickam, Jr., who achieved his seemingly unattainable goal of working for NASA. After Homer retired, he became a highly acclaimed writer, publishing a 1998 memoir entitled Rocket Boys which soared to the top of the best seller lists. In the book, Homer gave a great deal of credit to Freida for his professional successes. Eventually, the story became the 1999 feature film October Sky, with actress Laura Dern portraying Freida. The talented educator also appeared in Homer’s two follow-up memoirs, The Coalwood Way published in 2000, and Sky of Stone published in 2002.

In the last days of her life, Freida suffered from Hodgkin’s Disease. Nevertheless, she insisted on continuing with her teaching, even when  it was necessary for her students to carry her to her classroom on a stretcher. She passed away in 1969, when she was only 31 years old. She is interred at Grandview Memory Gardens in Bluefield, Virginia.

The Freida J. Riley Award was established in her honor and is awarded annually to an American educator who overcomes adversity or makes an enormous sacrifice to positively impact students. The award is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and administered by the Partnership for America’s Future.Concord College has also established an annual scholarship in Riley’s name.

Talented and Dedicated Band Directors Lead Students in 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

ss-131128-macys-tease.photoblog600[2]While enjoying today’s broadcast of the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I was struck by how many amazing high school bands were selected to perform in this celebrated event. This was the first year I have actually watched the parade all the way to the end, and, at its conclusion, I decided to share some information about the gifted and dedicated educators who have devoted their expertise to serve as band directors for these groups of talented young people.

Joel Denton led the Ooltewah High School Band from Ooltewah, Tennessee. Joel earned his bachelor’s of science in music education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Joel has served as chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Ooltewah from 1982 to the  present, and as the choral director from 1993 to 1997. This talented educator was selected as the  Ooltewah Teacher of the Year in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2011 and the Beta  Club Teacher of the Year in 1995. The Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts  has twice honored him for outstanding teaching and mentoring. He is active as an adjudicator, clinician, and consultant for bands throughout  the nation.

Band director Kevin Ford led the Tarpon Springs High School Outdoor Performance Ensemble. This group hails from Tarpon Springs, Florida. Kevin is the director of The Leadership Conservatory for The Arts at Tarpon Springs High School, and has been nationally recognized as an accomplished show designer for the past twenty-five years. This gifted educator has been a teacher in the public school system for eighteen years, all of which have been spent as the director of bands at Tarpon Springs High School. Kevin earned his bachelor of arts in music education from the University of Florida.

Directing the Union High School Renegade Regiment from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was Matthew McCready. Matthew, an eight-year veteran educator, graduated from the University of Kansas, earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education. While attending KU, this hardworking educator served as the assistant director of both the men’s and women’s basketball bands during the 100th year anniversary of Kansas basketball. During those years he was also selected to perform in the Walt Disney World All-American College Band. In addition to teaching, Matthew devotes his time to being a musician, adjudicator, clinician, and conductor.

Band director Greg Snyder led the Lakota West High School Marching Firebirds from West Chester, Ohio. Greg has been director of bands in the Lakota Local School District since 1987. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music education degree from Bowling Green State University and his master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois. Most impressively, this talented director was inducted into the elite ranks of the American Bandmasters Association (ABA) in 2007.

Directing the Marian Catholic High School Band from Chicago Heights, Illinois, was Greg Bimm. Greg, who has taught for thirty-six years at Marian Catholic, earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Illinois State University, his master’s from Western Illinois University, and his doctorate from VanderCook College of Music. Greg has received five National Band Association Citations of Excellence and the NBA Certificate of Merit. He was named the 1983 national winner of the ASBDA Stanbury award for young band directors, and received the Sudler Order of Merit from the John Philip Sousa Foundation in 1991 and 1997. Most recently, this remarkable educator served as a member of the teaching staff for the Bands of America Honor Band that appeared in the 2005 Tournament of Roses Parade.

Leading the Concord Community High School Marching Minutemen from Elkhart, Indiana, was gifted and talented band director Scott Spradling. This is the fifth appearance of the Minutemen in the Macy’s Parade. What is so impressive about Scott’s music program is that the Performing Arts Department at Concord High School involves approximately half of the school’s 1500 students in their course offerings of marching band, concert band, jazz band, pep band, string orchestra, symphony orchestra, choir, piano, dance, and AP music theory.

Director of Bands Scott Burgener led the Mountain View High School Toro Marching Band from Meza, Arizona. Scott has been a high school band director in Arizona since 1993, and has taught at Mountain View since 1999. This dedicated teacher holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in instrumental music education from Arizona State University. Scott has been honored with the Champion of the Arts Award by the West Valley Fine Arts Council, and in 2006, he was chosen as one of the “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” by School Band and Orchestra (SBO) Magazine. In 2009, he was recognized with AMEA’s George C. Wilson Leadership/Service Award.

Also making an appearance in the parade was Macy’s Great American Marching Band, comprised of students from all fifty states. These amazing student musicians rehearse together for only one week prior to the parade. This band was led by Dr. Jon Woods from the Ohio State University and Dr. Richard D. Good from Auburn University.

Chalkboard champions, all!

Horror Fiction Writer Stephen King: He Was Once a High School Teacher

stephen_king[1]Most people are very familiar with the popular novels and short stories of talented horror fiction writer Stephen King, but did you know he was once a high school teacher?

Stephen was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. His father was a merchant seaman, and his mother was a kitchen worker in a facility for the developmentally handicapped. When Stephen was only two years old, his father abandoned the family, and thereafter his mother struggled to support herself, Stephen, and Stephen’s older brother, David.

When he was young, Stephen attended Durham Elementary School, and then Lisbon Falls High School in Lisbon Falls, Maine, where he graduated in 1966. Even as a child, Stephen displayed an interest in horror fiction. He was an avid reader of EC’s horror comics, which included the stories of Tales from the Crypt.  He began writing for his own amusement, contributing articles to Dave’s Rag, a home-based newspaper his brother published with a mimeograph machine. Later he began selling stories to his classmates based on movies he had seen, though he was forced to return his profits when his teachers discovered the enterprise. The first of Stephen’s stories to be independently published was “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber,” published in a popular fanzine in 1965.

Following Stephen’s graduation from high school in 1966, he enrolled as a student at the University of Maine, Orono, declaring a major in English. During his college years, he wrote a column for the student newspaper, The Maine Campus, entitled “Steve King’s Garbage Truck,” participated in writing workshops, and took odd jobs to help meet his living expenses, including one stint at an industrial laundry.  He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student  Senate. He sold his first professional short story, “The Glass Floor,” to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967.

After graduating from the university in 1970, Stephen earned his high school teaching credential, but was unable to find a teaching position right away. To earn a living, he sold short stories to men’s magazines such as Cavalier. In 1971, Stephen was hired to teach at Hampden Academy, a public high school in Hampden, Maine. He continued to contribute short stories to magazines and worked on ideas for novels. After his novel Carrie was published, Stephen left his job as a high school teacher to write full time, but he continued his career as an educator when he was hired as a professor of creative writing at the University of Maine, Orono.

Today, Stephen King and his family live in Bangor, Maine. His wife, Tabitha King, is also a successful author. Stephen and Tabitha provide scholarships for local high school students and  contribute to many other local and national charities.

High School English Teacher Ann Turner Cook: She is the Iconic Face of the Gerber Baby!

original[1]Did you know that the iconic image of the healthy, happy baby with the sparkling eyes and the inquisitive look on Gerber baby products grew up to become a high school English teacher? That’s right!

The name of that irresistible baby is Anne Turner Cook. She was born on November 20, 1926, the daughter of Leslie Turner, a syndicated cartoonist who drew the comic strip Captain Easy for more than a decade. In 1928, when Anne was only five months old,  the Gerber company announced they were seeking images of a baby to use on the packaging of their upcoming line of baby foods. Artist Dorothy Hope Smith, a neighbor of the Turner family, submitted a charcoal sketch of Ann, promising to finish the drawing if it was selected. Smith’s drawing competed with thousands of entries, including many elaborate oil paintings, but the judges fell in love with this baby’s cherubic face and, when choosing it as the winner, insisted that the simple illustration remain a sketch. The image was trademarked in 1931, and it has been used on Gerber baby food packaging ever since.

When she grew up, Ann attended the University of South Florida and other post-secondary schools, where she studied education, English, and journalism. She earned several degrees, including a master’s degree in English Education. After completing her education, Ann became a teacher at Oak Hill Elementary in Tampa, Florida, later transferring to the English Department at Madison Junior High School. In 1966, she accepted a position at Hillsborough High School, also in Tampa, where she taught literature and creative writing. In 1972, her students dedicated their school yearbook, the Hillsborean, to their beloved teacher, who had personally sponsored the book. In it, her students described her as “a teacher who really communicates with the students,” and who, “without any complaints, has stayed late, worked nights, and with quiet efficiency supported her staff in their monumental task.”

Ann’s career as an educator spanned twenty-six years. After retiring, this talented teacher became a successful novelist. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, she is the author of the Brandy O’Bannon series of mystery novels set on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The adventures of Florida reporter and amateur sleuth Brandy O’Bannon are described in Trace Their Shadows, published in 2001, Shadow Over Cedar Key, published in 2003, and Micanopy in Shadow, published in 2008.

Fourth Grade Teacher Kara Laricks is Also an Acclaimed Fashion Designer

Kara+Laricks+Outerwear+Blazer+HHd3WC8VGsxl[1]Many talented educators have earned acclaim in fields other than education. One outstanding example of this is Kara Laricks, a fourth grade elementary schoolteacher who is also an acclaimed fashion designer.

Kara hails from Overland Park, Kansas, but she currently resides in New York City. She taught fourth grade for ten years. “I love teaching,” she expressed in an interview for Curve Magazine. “I love that career.” The talented teacher always told her students to be true to themselves. Finally, she decided to take own advice and pursue her dream of a career in fashion.

Kara said that she has loved design ever since she was a child. She attended the Academy of Art University, where she graduated in 2008. In 2012, at the age of thirty-eight, she became a contestant on the first season of the reality show Fashion Star, where her designs garnered her the first place trophy. Rolling Stone Magazine credited the show with embracing the avant garde designer and commended the buyers, especially Macy’s, for thinking outside the box and selecting Kara. The former teacher was awarded a grand prize of $6 million of purchases by Macy’s, H&M, and Saks Fifth Avenue.