Southern teacher is a real class act

Jim Reese (Submitted photo)

SALINEVILLE — Southern Local Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Jim Reese has become known as a veritable music man for incorporating tunes into his Language Arts lessons, but these days current and former students alike are singing his praises.

Reese, a Calcutta resident who has taught at Southern Local for the past three decades, received the Dunkin’ Donuts Class Act Award and was featured in news segment on March 20 on WFMJ 21. He was nominated by Paula Rose, the mother and grandmother of six former pupils. In her letter, Rose said her family recalled his use of music and poetry to bolster their learning skills. Reese was surprised by the news crew and visibly moved by Rose’s kind words, saying that educating kids has always been important to him.

“Her daughter was in my first teaching class 31 years ago. They used a poem we’d recite, ‘Equipment’ by Edgar A. Guest, for their Bible study and framed a copy and gave it to me as a Christmas present last year,” he reminisced.

The U.S. Army veteran and one-time millworker found his calling after losing his job in 1982. The father of five, grandfather of nine and great-grandfather of one had spent more than 12 years at Crucible Steel in Midland, Pa., until it closed that May and noted it was definitely a lifechanger.

“If the mill hadn’t shut down, I wouldn’t have become a teacher,” he said. “I began working there at age 19 and went off to the Army. They held my job and I returned to the mill two years later. When the mill shut down, I started going to college. I’ve always worked with kids in youth groups and it was a natural fit to pursue a degree and become a schoolteacher.”

Reese earned his degree from Kent State University and gained a substitute teaching position at Southern Local which became a full-time opportunity around 1989. Even then he used his guitar and gathered students for such melodies as “Bullfrogs and Butterflies,” plus they would recite inspiring poetry. He still hears from previous students who remember the songs and recitations and it warms his heart to hear them call him their favorite teacher.

“They all ask if I still sing with the kids, so it seems to be a common thread. I took up the guitar when I was working in the mill and I used it at youth groups and Sunday school at church. I took it to school when I became a substitute teacher and the kids loved it and it just clicked. It makes it fun for kids and they want to learn,” he continued. “I always tell the kids when they sing songs that they are actually reading. They do become more fluent readers and even though it’s fun they are learning.”

Students past and present say they are inspired by his style and he has become a role model.

Southern Local High School teacher and coach Mike Skrinjar, one of Reese’s former pupils, used the “Equipment” poem as words of inspiration and hung a framed copy of a stanza in the locker room to build his team’s spirits: “You can triumph and come to skill/You can be great if only you will/You’re well equipped for what fight you choose/You have legs and arms and a brain to use/And the man who has risen, great deeds to do/ Began his life with no more than you.”

Skrinjar said he learned much more from Reese than just the subjects in the classroom.

“He was one of my influences to be a teacher. He always gave me a love for sports and used to take us onto the basketball court and taught the team about handling adversity. We used [the poem] as motivation for overcoming adversity,” he said, adding that a fourth-grader later memorized and recited the poem to his team during a successful season. “The best way he influenced me was how to conduct yourself as a respectable person and to be a mentor. I thought he was a perfectionist and took pride in what he did. He has always a professional and cared for the students.”

And Reese’s current pupils are inclined to agree.

“He’s a nice teacher and a perfect teacher,” said Aiden Possage.

“All of us love his playing the guitar,” added Dawn Helman.

“It’s better when we all sing together,” said Preston Pitts.

“I love when he plays the guitar,” concluded Rylee Neice.