Written By Jane Gutsell
Forty years ago, a very special person walked into Greensboro Day School’s Lower Division as one of only three Language Arts & Science sixth-grade teachers. That special person was Marilyn Jones, who until her retirement in June 2012, was instrumental in guiding hundreds of young people and the school through myriad and exciting changes.
In 1978 sixth grade was still in the Lower School but soon moved out of that building and into what is now the Board Room. In 1982 it was incorporated into the Middle School. But not until Craig Head was hired in 1988 did the sixth grade have a dedicated Science teacher. Thus, Marilyn was still teaching both Language Arts and Science as Chairman of the English Department. At that time she asked Headmaster Ralph Davison to move her to seventh and eighth grade English, which she taught for three years before deciding to return to her first love – the lucky Sixth Grade! (On a personal note, she made this change the very same year that my daughter –class of ’97 – would have had her in seventh grade. I was chairing the English department at that time and tried to talk Marilyn into staying the seventh grade teacher just one more year, but she knew what she wanted and that was that.)
During her tenure in the Middle School, the Language Arts/English curriculum changed to an increased focus on grammar, literature, and expository writing. Before returning to sixth grade, Marilyn particularly enjoyed teaching students for more than one year so that she could actually experience their progress. She also enjoyed the special challenge of teaching with her eighth grade colleague, now Assistant Head of School Tommy Webb. Their team work involved in devising projects, writing assignments, thinking through the syllabus – all appealed to her interest in trying out new things. Later, she and another MS English teacher Grey Craven were recipients of a Summer Teaching Enrichment Grant, which took them to St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri to develop a Mark Twin curriculum. Students read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in the summer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn during the school year. Talk about a challenge!
Long before we were a “laptop” school, Marilyn experimented with using computers. She began a Pen Pal club with students in foreign countries. They wrote about their reading and students activities every week, taking turns at the ONE desktop. No wonder that Marilyn was only the third recipient of the distinguished Hendrix Award for Teaching Excellence.
Never one to rest on her laurels, back in sixth grade, she completely revised the reading and writing curriculum to include more focus on “process” with journaling and allowing students to choose their own books. Each week each student would write a “letter to a friend” about their reading, and every Friday afternoon she spent reading 60 letters!
In addition to teaching and chairing the English Department, Marilyn has been an integral part of the whole school. Beginning in1978 for ten years, Freddy Johnson had her coaching JV tennis, cheerleading, and boys’ golf. She served on the MS faculty Council planning dances, and projects such as the Big Orange Drive! She was one of the teachers to initiate the IOI (Improvement of Instruction) program, serving on the steering committee for four years. In 2006, she was chairing the IOI when the faculty built a Habitat for Humanity house in honor of Dr. Davison’s 20th year as Headmaster. Somehow she even managed to keep it a surprise!
One of her proudest achievements was helping to organize the Outdoor Education Program. Students enjoyed outdoors experiences at places such as Camp Seagull, Camp Broadstone, camping near Flat Rock, NC and another in Gatlinburg, TN. These were a highlight of the MS program and among her special memories. In 2002 she received the Brooks Summer sabbatical to go to Germany on a family genealogy exploration with her sister.
I asked Marilyn what she and Morgan, her husband of 46 years, have been doing since her retirement and her emphatic one-word answer was “Travel!” Her second one-word answer was “Fly-fishing!” They have fished the Watauga River, the Mitchell River, the North Platte and the Snake in Wyoming, and rivers in Montana. She loves both the challenge and the peacefulness of standing in waders in flowing cold water with a rod in her hand and tackle strapped to her waist.
For the last five years during the first week of August, she and Morgan have cooked and washed dishes as volunteers for 160 young people at an evangelical camp for a local Air Force base, ranchers, and Native American kids. They love every minute of it.
Every Monday night she tutors one-on-one at Friendly Avenue Baptist Church. Currently she is working with a young Hispanic boy on reading, writing, and math. She also mentors and teaches with Val Vickers, former MS Science teacher, at the Washington Montessori School. The old saying, “Once a teacher, always a teacher” goes double for Marilyn.
Two years ago, she and Morgan went with Kay Zimmerman, former MS Latin teacher, and her husband Charlie out west to tour National Monuments – the Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Mt. Rushmore. Next year she is hoping to make a trip to Ireland and Wales with her sister and six cousins to continue her work on family genealogy.
Marilyn loves remembering the great, wonderful teaching experiences she had with colleagues and students under the special guidance of Ed Dickinson, former MS director. She had taught for 10 years in the public school system but says that the positive atmosphere and collegiality of the Day School were truly unique. She loves to socialize and looks forward to the monthly retired MS faculty lunches. They call themselves the “FREEDOM Group,” which stands for “Friendly Retired Educators Enjoying Dining Out Monthly”!
That hot summer day in August 1978 when Marilyn Jones stepped onto a very different campus from the one GDS occupies now was one of our school’s luckiest. Once a Bengal, Always a Bengal!