Thursday, March 31, 2016

Benton Community 50 years - Wilson Impact

What's love got to do with it?  That's the title to a song performed by Tina Turner.  But, if you ask Bonita Wilson that question, she'll answer with "everything".  Love has to do with everything.

Mrs. Wilson was my 3rd grade teacher and made an imprint on my life more than she realizes.  Recently, I met with her in my office and asked her to reflect on her time teaching and living in the Benton Community School District.

As she approached my office, I noticed she held some artifacts in her arms.  She told me we might spend time together for no reason what-so-ever and there would be no pictures or quoting her.   As I remember from being in her 3rd grade classroom, she always was very clear in her objectives and intended outcomes.

Not much has changed in the forty-three years since I heard the word "Freeze" from her mouth.  This was a teaching technique she used with her students.  She'd say "Freeze", and we all did -- no matter what we were doing!  Mrs. Wilson would then give us directions, and then say "Thaw" and we'd be onto our next steps in our 3rd grade learning journey.  There was no downtime in that 3rd grade classroom.  Every moment had purpose.    

As we continued our conversation, I learned the artifacts she held in her arms were:
  • The Blairstown 3rd grade class composite from the 1972-73 school year
  • A Benton Community Elementary Yearbook from the 1973-74 school year
  • Copies of a few school board articles from the Star Press Union   
Bonita went to UNI to get a degree in business and a coaching endorsement.  Her parents encouraged her to pursue her college education.  Bonita's dad always told her the college education she would gain was her inheritance.  After being at UNI for a short time, she changed her degree to education, after a man told her she would never get a coaching job, due to her being a woman.  She'd spent her life up to that point being involved (4-H, Sunday school) and in some cases responsible for children (younger siblings) and had always loved being with kids.  So, a teacher she became and was for over 30 years, loving every minute of it. 

She taught for 20 years in the elementary school I attended in Blairstown.  She remembers fondly the people of Blairstown were great to work with.  When conferences were held the parents always asked, "What can I do to help my child?" 
Blairstown School 1951 photo
Blairstown School 1959 photo
Bonita shared her thoughts on the Blairstown Elementary staff.  They were great people to work with and became like family.   She worked closely with my aunt who was an associate in the district at that time.  My Aunt Macy always made sure we were all behaving in school and would call home to let mom know what we had done in school before we got off the bus -- so we best behave because, if we didn't, mom knew before we had a chance to share our "side of the story".   Mrs. Wilson reminded me that Aunt Macy did this because she loves us so much! 

I found it very evident, in our time together, Bonita is very proud of Benton and the education students earn -- in our extra-curricular activities and our classrooms.  She has fond memories of the "big" productions Mrs. Offt would orchestrate and how all hands were on deck to make these productions run without a hitch for the audiences in Blairstown. 

When Blairstown Elementary closed, Bonita and other Blairstown staff members began teaching at Keystone Elementary, where she taught for 10 years.  Other staff members from Blairstown went and taught at Atkins Elementary.  Part of this transition involved staff being able to change, communicate and compromise.  She thinks these things are very important in all aspects of life because the one constant we have is change.  
Keystone Elementary
Some of the other constants in her life are: 
  • Love is the thing that gets us through life and it doesn't cost us a dime and never runs out.  We've got to share and show it with one another.
  • Parents need to read with their children and be models of reading themselves. 
  • Find out the "why" of the behavior by creating relationships with our students, families and community.  
  • Build feelings of self-worth and a sense of hope for the future in students by letting them know you care and love them.  
  • Continue to build the skill levels of the people we work and live with because those people are the backbone of our community.  
We hugged each other as our time came to a close.  She reminded me of the little girl that just "kind of took over" when she was in the 1972-73 3rd grade class of 31 students and to "behave yourself". 
3rd grade
After 43 years, she still knows me well.  I marvel at how Mrs. Wilson continues to love and live her life.  She inspires me to be the best I can be, every day in every way.  I hope I am blessed in my life-time with having the opportunity to share some time with a former student forty-three or more years later.  

As I plant seeds to trees I may never sit under, I hope life provides for all a Mrs. Wilson who makes a difference for others by sharing their love.  

P.S.  Coaching may have been a dream for Mrs. Wilson, but she still analyzes basketball games when she watches them today.  Based on her ability to organize and make decisions, I'm sure basketball coaches and teams could learn a thing or two from her! 

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