Editor’s Note — This is the fifth in a five-part series showcasing each of the five Highland County public school districts from a teacher’s perspective as they kick off another school year.
Cindy Asmus and Cassie Adkins are separated by eight grades and a big hill at the Hillsboro City School’s complex at the south edge of town.
But one thing that unites them in purpose is a love for their profession, and a genuine care and concern for the young people entrusted to them during the school day. Asmus is entering her 23rd year as an educator, and teaches senior English and advanced placement literature at the high school.
She dispels the old notion that “you can’t go home.”
“I grew up here,” she said, “and I graduated from here, and it was my dream and goal to come back and teach here.”
The 1985 HHS graduate said it was the feeling of family that made her want to come back after college.
“I always enjoyed school and the outside activities,” she said. “But it was the feeling of belonging that was so special, and I try to do that with my kids.”
At the elementary school, Adkins teaches fourth grade reading and social studies and is starting her 24th year in teaching.
Like Asmus, she is Hillsboro born and raised, graduated from HHS in 1991, and always wanted to be a teacher.
“It was all because of my first grade teacher,” Adkins said. “She was awesome and when I got to high school and did that ‘what am I going to do when I graduate’ thing, it all came back to that great experience back in first grade.”
A common thread with both women is the sense of belonging and family at Hillsboro City Schools.
“It makes the learning process so much easier, and I want my students to be happy at school and build those relationships,” Adkins said.
Asmus agreed, adding, “I’ve had my home room for the last three years, so we started when they were sophomores. On open house night last week, I had 20 of my 22 seniors come in, and the first thing they asked was ‘are we still together again this year.’”
While at Wilmington College before she began student teaching, Asmus said she was observed by a veteran educator whom she deeply respected.
Later that day, during a meeting, her mentor summed up what she saw.
“She told me ‘you’ve got it,’” Asmus said. “You can’t teach someone how to teach, it’s a calling, an art and above all, a gift.”
Adkins agreed with her colleague, saying, “a good teacher may know the subject matter and the formula for getting it across, but a great teacher teaches from what’s inside… and the kids pick up on that.”
Their goals for their students in the coming school year are slightly different due to the grade level they teach.
For Adkins, it’s getting her fourth graders to learn what she calls “cooperative learning,” in other words, learning to play and work together, and instilling in them a love for reading.
“My goals are different because I have seniors,” Asmus explained. “My big thing is getting them ready to go out and do whatever their goals are, be it college, the military or getting a job.”
One of the objectives for both teachers is the safety and well-being of their students, and it’s a big concern for Asmus.
“The rise in school violence scares me,” she admitted. “Because the students watch the news and see schools that look a lot like Hillsboro… they see kids running scared and those kids look like their friends, and it’s real to them.”
She said the problem is the violence isn’t confined to the big cities.
“Four or five years ago, it was happening in other places,” Asmus said. “But now it keeps getting closer and closer, and these kids realize it.”
For Adkins, the concern strikes closer to home — at home.
“The number of kids that are probably taking care of themselves at home is such a tragedy,” she said. “Some of them are getting themselves up in the morning, getting dressed, and thank goodness we have free breakfast for everybody so we know they’ll at least have a meal.”
Adkins began seeing a disturbing trend in the late 1990s, and it has become worse today.
“We always had two or three families that we knew were having problems,” she noted. “But today it’s a much larger number… Its drugs, parents and grandparents are in jail, the kids are living with relatives or they’re in foster care. It just breaks your heart as a teacher.”
She said students are expected to come to school and be ready to read, write and work problems, but “their little brains are having a hard time with what was going on at home. Half the battle is just getting them here and mentally ready.”
Today’s opioid crisis is a big concern as well.
“It has touched every person in one way or another,” Asmus said. “The temptation is there and all it takes is one hit, or one overdose, and in a year or two after graduation that boy or girl who got straight A’s in your class is in rehab, or worse yet, is dead.”
Though some of the problems facing their students can be traced to what’s going on at home, both teachers agree the solution starts at home.
“Parental involvement is vitally important,” Adkins said. “From two sides, the parent who is right there, pushing and encouraging, helping them to see what’s outside their little world, and then you have the other side where the kids are seeing that their parents may indeed be right, and not as clueless as they think.”
Hillsboro City Schools’ recent open house gave Asmus reason for hope.
“Our open house was packed, and that’s not always been the case,” she said. “Seven or eight years ago, we had parent teacher conferences and I sat in this room by myself all night. But for the last two or three years I’ve really noticed a lot more parents are in the building, and that’s a good thing.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.