The phrase “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” first appeared in print as a space-filler in “The Lady’s Magazine” (1818). In other circles it was widely quoted in a toast given by Sir William Curtis MP (1825). Since that time, whenever we think of the “basics” of education, the Three R’s are often transformed to fit the topic.
The Three R’s of this story refers to Reading, Writing and Retirement. And, what could be a better topic for this familiar phrase than the legacy of Mrs. Mary Wilkinson, sixth grade teacher at Mays Elementary School. The progression from first year teacher to 29 plus years in the classroom unfolds in a way that is unique and foundational to her and her students.
Mary Wilkinson, the second oldest of 13 children, found she had a love of telling stories to her brothers and sisters.
“Often time books were not available in our home, so I would make up stories to tell them. It was great fun and a wonderful way to occupy our time. As a care giver and story teller to my younger siblings, I knew by age seven that I wanted to be a teacher. Some of my elementary teachers had been extremely strict. So I knew as a teacher I wanted to make school fun,” she recalled.
Mary graduated from Ball State University and fulfilled her childhood ambition of becoming a teacher. Her first foray into teaching found her at Knighstown in 1977 teaching a sixth grade class of 28 at risk students. After nine years, she took the next few years off from teaching while her children were young. She returned to teaching at Mays Elementary School in 1993 and spent the next nine years making learning fun for students. Then it was on to Arlington Elementary School where she taught for seven years. She is now finishing her career back at Mays.
“In each teaching experience, my greatest joy is seeing students faces light up when they ‘get it’ and want to share what they’ve learned,” Wilkinson said.
“One of the things I truly enjoy, and Rush County Schools has been great with, is the implementation of technology in the classroom. There are so many good programs that support and reinforce what we are trying to do. These programs also afford us the opportunity to personalize lessons for each student. Those who need extra help get that extra lift and those who need to venture out a bit can do that too,” Wilkinson stated.
“Another great way to capture the thoughts and ideas of my classes has been to publish a book. These books typically focus on a theme. Each student utilizes one page for written copy and one page for a drawn illustration. This year’s class is interviewing and writing about a relative that is important and has had an impact on their lives. The compilation of stories will be transformed into a book that can be enjoyed years later,” she cited.
As you talk with Mary Wilkinson, her love of writing just bubbles to the surface. Her childhood years of telling stories coupled with a special writing project, launched her into becoming an author in her own right. The summer of 2003 found her participating in the Indiana Writing Project at Ball State University. It was there that she began to put in writing the stories that would become her first book, ‘Call Me Lizzy.’ While her book is fictional, it is grounded for certain in the childhood and classroom stories that have shaped her life. And who is the depiction of Lizzy on her book cover? Well it turns out this is a former student at Mays Elementary School. Delany Dawson, now a student at Benjamin Rush Middle School, is the personification of the face of Lizzy. ‘Call Me Lizzy’ is being released March 11 with book signings at several locations (Mary Wilkinson can be contacted at: WilkinsonM@rushville.k12.in.us).
The next chapter of Mary Wilkinson’s life will be the third R – Retirement. She is looking forward to time spent with her husband and sharing the creation of several more books.
“I think of retirement not as an end, but more a new beginning to next exciting chapter in my life. It will be great to be able to spend time with my grandchildren as well as write from the topics I’ve been accumulating,” she said.
However the third R is lived out, we know there will be some great stories along the way. We are grateful for the journey of Mary Wilkinson in the life of Rush County Schools. She, as well as countless educators before her, truly do make “Rush County Schools A Great Place To Be.”
(Marianne Scott is the Legacy Fund Director/Information Officer for Rush County Schools)