HILLIARD, Ohio — For many teachers, the classroom is where it all happens, where students learn and grow.
But, for Denise Estep, a single room is simply not enough. The Hilliard Horizon teacher takes pride in getting her students out of the classroom.
“I love the kids,” she said. “I still am passionate about my job, so that’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Estep’s students are part of the Mileage Club, which gets students outside on a daily basis to walk, run or jog, whatever it takes to their bodies moving. The students set goals and, for each mile earned, collect toe tokens, which can be attached to their shoelaces.
“The effort, the energy, it’s gotten them excited about exercise and being physically active, so it’s good for all of us,” Estep said.
The students also work in the community garden and get to try the fruits and vegetables, some of which they’ve never sampled before. They also take part in community service projects, which have included making sandwiches for the homeless. And they helped to organize a blood drive.
“Blood donation is near and dear to my heart,” Estep said. “My own life was saved 14 years ago from a blood donor. So, I hosted a blood drive, I’ve always donated since then, but I learned impact is so much bigger if we could host a blood drive.”
One of the volunteers who showed up to donate was Elizabeth Cooley, the mother of one of Estep’s students.
“She doesn’t focus just on the academics,” Cooley said of Estep. “She focuses on everything – the social, how everyone has improved – and I feel like she really cares. This is a teacher that my daughter will look back on later and remember.”
That’s certainly Estep’s hope. She remembers being inspired to become a teacher by her great great aunt, who was a one-room schoolhouse teacher. Now she’s spending her 20th year in education in her own classroom.
And Cooley says she’s definitely due for some recognition.
“I know how important it is for me to be recognized at work, and my daughter to be recognized at school, so I think it’s only fair that great teachers be recognized as well,” she said. “They work really hard, and I know they don’t get paid nearly enough as what they should, and it just, she’s a really great person, and I think she deserves to be recognized.”
Estep was appreciative of the honor and shared that her goals for her students go far beyond academics.
“I think my most important job is to make kind humans,” she said. “I mean, truly, I want us to love our neighbors, love each other, show kindness. So that would probably be what I want more than anything else is to have my kids leave my classroom learning how to treat other people.”