New challenges for Oglesby teacher even after 35 years

By: By Jennifer Willems

Editor’s note: Catholic Schools Week will be observed Jan. 30 to Feb. 5. A guide to the week published in the Jan. 23 issue of The Catholic Post honored 94 faculty and staff members celebrating anniversary years of Catholic education in the Diocese of Peoria.

OGLESBY — Holy Family School is marking 50 years in 2011 and for 35 of them Jane Flynn has been teaching third grade.

“I think she came with the building,” said Sheri Harlow, school secretary.

“It’s amazing every day to see the creative and innovative ideas she’s still coming up with, with her third-graders,” Jyll Jasiek, principal, told The Catholic Post.

And even at that young age they notice it.

“So often I talk to high school students who say, ‘Mrs. Flynn was my favorite teacher,'” Jasiek said.

Flynn demures.

“I liked what I saw. I liked what I was doing. And I loved the people that I worked with,” she said simply.

She also noticed how the students benefited from being able to talk about their faith and practice it in their everyday lives.

“I saw the difference it made in forming their total character,” Flynn explained, adding that some of her favorite moments as a teacher have involved celebrating church holidays and the different liturgical seasons with her students.

While some might wonder how she keeps her lesson plans fresh after teaching the same grade for so many years, Flynn noted that each class is different.

“There’s always a new challenge,” she said.

The key is making a connection with each student and that’s something she works very hard to do.

“When you find a connecting point with the child, that’s how you can reach them,” Flynn said. “I always look for how I can connect with them and how I can make our relationship a better relationship, because when you have happy kids or kids that feel comfortable around you . . . I think you can get more learning out of them.”

Since sports is a good way of connecting with some of the kids, she makes it a habit to stay current on what’s happening.

“It’s something to talk about, a way to learn more about them,” she said, and it can help them to open up.

Flynn’s ability to find each student’s learning style is important to their success, Jasiek said, because third grade is when students start standardized testing at Holy Family.

“She’s excellent at getting them prepared for that,” the principal said.

Success is a word that Flynn uses often. For her, it means happiness.

“It’s an acceptance of themselves the way they are. Finding a place, in the long run, in the community and being able to share what they have learned here as far as faith and knowledge with other people in their life,” she told The Post. “It’s about being able to tackle life and making them feel OK about themselves.”

Since Flynn graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1974 and started using her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Holy Family, she has worn many hats. Jasiek said she is the school’s “Number One nutritional expert and veterinarian.”

Not only does Flynn teach her students how to read food labels, but she rewards them for bringing in healthy snacks. They have internalized the message so well that when they are asked to smile and say “cheese pizza” for a photo, they inform the photographer that that isn’t a healthy food.
Because of her love for animals, she has organized Holy Family’s pet blessing in October for many years and among her favorite memories is having creatures great and small gathered in the gym, barking and meowing.

Another hat would say “fundraiser” due to her efforts to raise money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital though a math-a-thon held each fall. The school has been able to send $19,000 since Flynn got involved, including $1,071 in 2010.

She also staffs aftercare one day a week, calling it a great way to connect with the younger students, and takes lunchroom duty one day a week.
Perhaps her favorite hat is that of Holy Family parent, however. She and her husband, Patrick, sent their daughter, Sara, to Holy Family.

“I became very active in any programs that involved the kids. You get very close to the teachers,” she said, adding that “Holy Family is a good word to use because they become part of your family.”

It makes her determined to do her best for all the other Holy Family parents, many of whom are her former students.

“You know parents are making a sacrifice to pay the money to bring their kids to a Catholic school. It’s love,” Flynn said. “They’re expecting that from us, too.”

She likes the Catholic Schools Week theme — “A+ for America, Catholic Schools” — because she feels Holy Family provides that through the dedication of the clergy, the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who offer their support, and the teachers, most of whom have been there for many years.

People have asked her if she’s considered retirement, but Flynn plans to stay right where she is.

“If there ever came a time when I didn’t enjoy it, then I would say that’s my time to think about not doing it anymore,” she said. “But I still enjoy the teaching. I still enjoy being with the kids.”

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