Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hall High School 1978-87

The second stop in my career was at Hall High School in Spring Valley, IL, a "bigger" school of about 500 students, and a rival school to my very own high school, LaSalle-Peru. I traded in the Andersons and Petersons for classrooms filled with Dzierzynskis and Giocomettis. Spring Valley and the feeder towns of Ladd, Cherry, Dalzell, Seatonville, and Bureau were populated with southern and eastern European families, as my own home town of Oglesby was, just fifteen miles away. I had no trouble with the names, nor did most of my colleagues with similar ones. The kids were a little wiser, a little rougher, but certainly spirited and caring at this school where all of their parents and some of their grandparents had gone. (There were third-generation cheerleaders; I kid you not!)

I was now an English teacher and a Reading Specialist, as I had earned my M.S. in 1982. So I taught the then-popular (to principals, not students) "remedial reading" as well as different levels of English, College Study Skills, and even Athletic P.E. at times.

This was the perfect next school for me, as it afforded me mentorship and great opportunities to grow in professional development, technology, and coaching. Walt Westrum was the superintendent there my entire ten years, and he greatly empowered me in all these areas, often coming up with the ideas himself and inviting me to take part.

I was sent by Walt (and funded by the State of Illinois) to Tucson, AZ, to pick up their "Catch Up, Keep Up" reading program for high schools and to become the state facilitator of the project. With Walt's urging, I began to be a "presenter" at local, county, and then state meetings of teachers in reading strategies and later in using technology to teach writing. It was all "stand and deliver" in those days, and LCD projectors were not yet invented. You might see an occasional high-tech teacher using an "overhead projector." Wow. Of course, the more you do this kind of thing, the more you get "known" and invited to do more.
At Hall, I put hands on my first computer (word processor, then) and it was "love at first touch." Walt was a genius at getting this stuff for our school, either free or for very little money. We had two labs for student use before I knew it, and one was set up right next to me! Soon, all of my English students were doing all of their writing on these machines, and saving it on those big old floppy disks--remember them? Our experimentation and research in this area put us at the cutting edge of English education in Illinois at that time. Thanks to Walt, I also had my very own Commodore 64 at home! And a dot-matrix printer!

This was the dawn of Title IX, and I became the school's varsity softball coach, a position I held for all ten years there. My players, my assistants, and I built that program into the best girls' sports program at that school and one of the most-respected in the area. It kind of became my "mission" to make girls sports more equal with boys, so I relentlessly pursued that with public relations and motivation for winning. The Lady Devils (or She-Devils, as I called them) were in the paper, on the local radio, and even on cable TV! I loved softball and I loved coaching these young athletes, who were so, so dedicated. I even continued it right through two pregnancies. The athletic director, Frank Colmone, finally said that they were worried about my coaching on the bases "in my condition." He asked me to take on a second assistant, which I happily did, a former player who was attending the local community college. Perhaps it's no accident that both of my daughters were great high school athletes themselves, years later in Heidelberg, Germany. But that's the next part of the story . . . .

(This photo from a 1984 newspaper shows us in gale-force winds and me six months preganant!)


  1. Thanks Maryellen. I too have many fond memories of Hall...

    And, btw, I consider you to be one of my mentors as well! Being in your British Literature class - and being part of the "NOW" students - was truly a privilege!


    Pete Johnson
    Class of 1982

  2. I enjoyed your reflections on Hall in 100 Bells. Your British Literature class taught me to write and was largely responsible for me being able to proficiency out of Rhetoric in college. I used all the college study skills you taught, too. When most kids were pulling all-nighters, I was getting a good night's sleep!
    Softball was fun and we were pretty darn good.
    Thanks for getting all of us off to a good start in college. Congratulations on your retirement!
    Beth (Okleson) McCollum
    Hall Class of '83

  3. Thanks Maryellen. I too have many fond memories of Hall...

    And, btw, I consider you to be one of my mentors as well! Being in your British Literature class - and being part of the "NOW" students - was truly a privilege!


    Pete Johnson, Hall Class of '82

  4. Before Maryellen's course, College Study Skills, I wasn't sure I'd even go to college (let alone throw on 10 years of it :-) I'm convinced that it doesn't really matter when one decides to catch the wave. What matters most are the fine words and gentle acts of encouragement from those you admire, those who ride the waves with such finesse no matter what. Thank you for sharing YOUR wondeful gifts. I will always remember, never forget.

    Jim Bruno, Hall Class of '79

  5. Thanks for talking me out of a 2 year nursing degree from IVCC. College was the best and I was lucky to get a great education and career. Plus, I met Kevin which may not have happened otherwise. You will always be one of my greatest mentors.

    Diane (Bellino) Cassatt, Class of '82

  6. Thanks for holding us accountable for being fine gentleman and women and expecting that from us! I also appreciate you allowing us to also be ourselves. I too was in your study skills class, and Scholastic Bowl. Thank You!

    Jeff Johnson, Hall Class of '80

  7. Kevin Guerrini Class of '81November 11, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    You obviously touched many people in man ways. You should be proud Maryellen.

    Who knew Hall was so cutting edge back then?!!