After 21 years of uninterrupted teaching at Price Elementary School, Joan Martin, who was born, raised and schooled in Downey, is retiring in June, but not for the usual reasons.There is a strong hint of nobility, or at the minimum compassion, in reason number one: she says she is retiring before the normal retirement age because she wants to give other teachers, especially new ones, an opportunity to teach. "Last year three teachers, three teachers who had families to support, bills to pay, and so on," she said, "lost their jobs due to budget cuts. It was wrenching." Reason number two is fraught with more emotion than she's willing to admit: she says she is retiring early so she can babysit her six-week-old grandson. In any case, she came to teaching later than most. Joan tells of those early years: "When I graduated from Cal State Fullerton with my BS in American Studies, I didn't get my credential right away. Instead I stayed home and raised my two wonderful children (Christine and Scott). When they were attending Price, I started volunteering in their classrooms. Then I went back to school at Cal State LA and got my credential." Joan has always wanted to be a teacher. "I used to watch my mom teach Sunday school, and I'd just dream of being a teacher," she said. It was also her mom whose advice "Never give up on your goal!" would energize her will countless times. At age 69, Joan's mom went back to attend Cerritos College and became a celebrity when she was voted Homecoming Queen, whereupon she went on TV and made the National Enquirer, etc. "She has always been my inspiratio.," Joan's career at Price started in the 1988-89 school year when she share-taught 1st grade with Kristy Berk, who also continues to teach there to this day. From 1989-90 to 1992-93 Joan taught 5th grade, then kindergarten from 1993-94 to 1997-98, then 2nd grade from 1998-90 to the present. It was while she was teaching 5th grade she realized the kids didn't know their geography. (Knowledge of geography, among other things, is woefully lacking even among adults-Rf. Jay Leno's Show). "I wanted to change this," she said. "Besides, not every thing gets studied in school. One has to fill in the blanks somehow." So she initiated Geography Bee in her class. Then in the middle of her kindergarten tenure, in 1995-96, she launched what was to become her 'trademark' project, the Globetrotter Club. "I wanted to make learning exciting and fun for the kids," Joan said. The club was able to engage volunteer help from practically everybody-K-5 teachers, principals, the PTA, while a grant from Dr. Mary Stauffer would provide for a window display)-in a wonderful and heartwarming cooperative effort. Under the program, kindergartners learn continents and oceans; 1st graders lakes and valleys; 2nd graders rivers and mountains; 3rd graders islands, desert cities, and other interesting places (the Panama Canal, etc.); 4th graders the 50 states; and 5th graders the 50 capitals. In the meantime, all sorts of events, projects, incentives and recognitions (certificates and medals) were thrown into the mix. Students who pass their grade level tests entered the winners' circle, and at the end of the year were at first recognized at a Family Geography Challenge Night celebration and a family picnic. This soon turned into an ice cream party. When the district instituted its Wellness Program, ice cream was out, and the year-round theme became "The Amazing Race." The culmination of the race was marked by ingenious kids' activities. Rewards came in the form of bottled water and fruit. Says Joan: "Of course, as we said, we can't accomplish all this without everyone's help. Everybody works together to help the kids become successful." For these efforts, Joan was cited by Sam's Discount Store as its 'Teacher of the Year' in 1999, and was again honored with the 'Teacher of the Year' award in 2006 by the Downey United Masonic Lodge #220. When President Obama's representatives visited the district last month for a look-see of its vaunted Character Counts program, where did they go? They went to Price. "The showcase classroom they visited at Price was my 2nd grade class," said Joan. "My students did the Character Counts pledge, sang the school song, and some of them even explained what Character Counts meant to them." The students' performance was hardly a surprise. Price, Joan proudly pointed out, last year achieved an 850 API (Academic Performance Index) score, the highest ever attained in the district. "Education is hard work," she said, "but it's worth every minute because you can make a difference in a child's life, make an impact that will last for the rest of their lives." Joan added: "I feel I've been blessed, with the teachers I've worked with, and with my students I've had. It's going to be hard to say goodbye, but then, I can come back and volunteer."
********** Published: November 27, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 32