Kathy Hillman: School days

Students, including Kathy Hillman’s grandmother, at Salt Mountain School in Brown County, taken around 1910. (Photo provided by Kathy Hillman)

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“School days, school days / Dear old Golden Rule days / Reading and ’riting and ’rithmetic”

Much has changed since 1907, when Will Cobb and Gus Edwards wrote “School Days.” That year, the Texas Legislature allotted $6 per child for education, assessed a state school property tax, extended the school term to at least six months and considered providing free textbooks. Teachers relied heavily on chalkboards and slates, since most families couldn’t afford lined tablets.

kathy hillman130Kathy HillmanGov. Thomas Mitchell Campbell noted, “The educational spirit is manifesting itself at this time as never before.” He marveled at the 1907 enrollment of 869,864 children, since school attendance wasn’t mandatory.

Today, more than 5.5 million students attend Texas schools, which provide at least 180 instructional days. The Legislature mandated attendance in 1915, which currently applies to children ages 6-18. There’s no state property tax, and students must be immunized against diseases. Reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic morphed into STAAR standards that add science and social studies. School supplies include everything from earbuds to dry-erase markers. 

Much, however, remains the same. Families scurry to purchase supplies and struggle with affording a different kind of tablet. Girls and boys feel excited butterflies, and parents say goodbye with misty eyes. Most importantly, educators still make a difference. The lives of two teachers illustrate the unselfish dedication and unconditional love that amplifies and changes lives exponentially. 

hillman woodson ushering beale424Coach Adrian Woodson ushers his former middle school teacher Sara Beal (left) to her seat at the wedding of her son, David. (Kathy Hillman Photo)For both Sara Beal and Adrian Woodson, teaching is not a career choice but a life choice and a calling. Woodson became the first in his family to finish high school. Although several teachers and coaches influenced the star athlete to graduate from Temple High School, he praises his middle school teacher Sara Beal for encouraging, guiding and loving him on such a personal level that it ended a cycle of broken families and planted the seed of wanting to do more for his community and other children of broken homes. She taught him “there is much more to being successful than grades and athletic accomplishments.”

Beal takes pride in Woodson, the state-championship quarterback, encouraging his younger sister to graduate; attending Oregon State University on a football scholarship; graduating from college; becoming a loving husband, father and foster dad; and serving as a dedicated teacher and coach in Temple, Pflugerville and now Elgin. He learned from her being a great teacher extends outside classrooms and athletic fields to caring about families and giving them tools necessary to raise well-rounded individuals who become community leaders. 

hillman grandchildren supplies425Kathy Hillman’s grandchildren, Tally, Gilbert, Gabe and Mitchell Smith, with their combined school supplies. (Kathy Hillman Photo)Woodson isn’t an 8-to-5 educator. He visits grandmothers in hospitals, sees struggling students in their homes, and attends UIL competitions, rodeos and dance recitals. Like Sara Beal, Adrian Woodson shows students with his actions they matter and can do great things. 

He recently earned his master’s degree and is paying it forward and making a difference as a special education teacher, academic coordinator and coach at Elgin High School, just as the newly-retired Beal paid it forward and made a difference in his life and countless others during her 30 years as a pre-K, elementary and middle school teacher. 

hillman sawyer firstday425Kathy Hillman’s grandson Sawyer Hillman is ready for school. (Kathy Hillman Photo)But how can we and our churches make a difference? We can support educators and schools. We can help children in difficult situations. We can prayerwalk just as First Baptist Church in Robinson walks district campuses praying for students, teachers, administrators and staff. 

We can encourage students to unite in prayer on Sept. 23 for See You at the Pole 2015. In 1990, inspired by youth following a Discipleship Now weekend, Burleson youth minister Rick Eubanks, other Baptist youth workers and the director of youth evangelism for Texas Baptists at the time, Chuck Flowers, began the day of prayer as a one-year trial. They promoted the event at Super Summer. 

They chose flagpoles as locations for the teen-led prayers, since every school had one. An adult birthed the name by exclaiming, “See you at the pole.” Texas Baptists through Leighton Flowers, director of youth evangelism, continue to promote the event

texas baptist voices right120On Sept. 23 and every day, we can talk to God with eyes open and heart alert as we pass through school zones. We can pray with Fort Worth school nurse Miriam Cole Lambert, who told friends: “Up since 3:45 in anticipation of the new school year. I thought that might be a bad thing, but it has given me a great time to reflect, pray and prepare. Hoping that I continue to pray and focus on others the whole day through.” 

May we as Texas Baptists pray and focus on our children and our schools this whole year through.

Kathy Hillman is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She also is director of Baptist collections, library advancement and the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.

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