For 35 years Terri Worden has inspired students to succeed in athletics and academics. I applaud her for persevering through the decades of change that have occurred with students and education standards.
You might say Terri Worden is a homebody. Except for fours years of living as a college student at the University of Indianapolis, she has lived on the same country mile, first as a child with her family and later with her husband and children, her entire life. “I could always see Lancaster Elementary School across the field,” she said.
While Worden might not have lived anywhere but Wells County for most of her life, her scope of influence as a teacher in the Norwell school system since 1975 has encouraged hundreds of students and residents of Wells County the opportunity to think, grow, and see the world.
In college Worden majored in education and physical education, while earning a minor in English.
In 1975 Worden returned to Norwell High School (NHS) where she had graduated as a student a few years earlier to teach Physical Education and Language Arts. She took off one semester when each of her children, Kay and Nick, were born.
In 2010 Worden continued to teach but made several decisions that impacted her career. First, she transferred from teaching at NHS to the Wells County Alternative School. The move meant she left a school with 800 students to teach at one with 40 students, mostly juniors and seniors. In reality Worden and most of the teachers at NHS would personally teach only 180 of the 800 students throughout the year. Still, the numbers between the two schools are vastly different.
The Wells County Alternative School began operations in 1995 when Ron Harnish, a teacher at NHS, started as its director. Harnish eventually assumed duties of the ICE program at NHS and Daphne Dahl was installed as the smaller school’s director. In late summer 2010 Dahl was re-assigned to Ossian Elementary School as interim principal after that school’s principal accepted another position. Bob Dahl, Daphne’s husband and a current teacher at the alternative school, became the school’s new interim director. He and Worden teach 20 students in the morning and 20 additional students in the afternoon classes. The pool of students at the Alternative School includes those living in the Norwell, Bluffton-Harrison, and Southern Wells school districts.
The Alternative school’s current location also changed this year. For the past few years, the Alternative School had run from a building near the Wells County jail west of Bluffton. By fall, the school had shifted to a facility near Arby’s Restaurant on State Road 1 in Bluffton.
Worden chose to move to the alternative school because she felt the need to reach more students. “Some students are bright but struggle academically,” she said. “They need a different learning environment to show academic success. We hope to create that in the alternative school by adjusting to individual student needs.”
Worden said her method of teaching has changed in the smaller environment. “We may do vocabulary words at level 3 for one student and level 7 for another. But we’ll do sets of things with all of the students as well. The students understand we each learn differently and don’t question the methods we use.”
Another change for Worden in 2010 came with her decision to retire as girls’ tennis coach. Worden founded the girls’ tennis program in 1987. Since that time, she has coached 193 players, including varsity and junior varsity. In recent years Worden has cut back to coaching just varsity. Her players have won five sectionals. In an effort to honor Worden’s efforts as a coach, a retirement party was held for her by former tennis players and their families.
Teaching and coaching are not Worden’s only interests. In 2001 Worden created her own travel tour group called “Trips with Terri” (www.tripswithterri.com). For the past nine years, Worden has offered one-day trips that leave from Ossian Elementary School. The trips include baseball games in Chicago; Christmas shopping in Frankenmuth, Michigan, and a trip to the stores along the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. It may sound fun to coordinate such a group, but Worden has learned the foibles of such a venture. “I’ve learned not to book baseball games in late summer for a particular team because if that team is not doing well, no one will want to see them play,” she said.
While traveling helps Worden escape some of the stress related to teaching, she says she still feels challenged each time she stands before a classroom of students at her new school. “I enjoy the opportunity to spend time with smaller classes,” she said. “I can get to know 40 students easier than 180. I want to be looked at as a friend rather than just dispensing information in a classroom.”
Reprinted with permission of the Ossian Sun Riser