‘Land’ing dream job: Teacher known for rockets, tree plantings retires

A recently retired Wapakoneta Elementary School third-grade teacher knew back in the sixth grade that she wanted to teach.

“I had the same teacher for fifth and sixth grades (a looping class) and I guess she impressed me enough to want to go into education,” said Yvonne Cook, who began teaching fifth grade in 1977 at Centennial Elementary School.

After three years, she was asked to move to the sixth grade, where she stayed for 20 years, moving to Northridge Elementary School in 1982 and then to Wapakoneta Middle School in 1989. In 2000, she returned to Northridge and then to the new Wapakoneta Elementary School to teach third grade.

“While teaching sixth grade, I was self-contained, was part of two- and three-teacher teams, and then departmentalized,” said Cook, who chose to teach science.

She said at the time it was a subject no one else wanted to teach, but for which Cook developed a passion, especially when it came to physical science.

“You can have a lot of fun teaching it all hands-on,” Cook said.

Her favorite lessons were about motion and rockets made with 2-liter bottles. She later adapted that program to 20-ounce bottles for the third-graders she was teaching.

“I never got tired of teaching that unit and I still have fun with it,” Cook said. “I learned something new every time I taught it. I was always amazed at how well third-graders understood Newton’s laws by shooting off rockets.”

It was while Cook was teaching at Wapakoneta Middle School that she also began organizing Arbor Day celebrations with the Wapakoneta City Tree Commission. Twenty-four years later, this spring, she conducted her last ceremony.

At the time she got started, Cook’s brother was serving on the Tree Commission and asked if she would have a ceremony with the students.

“I just happened to be interested and did my first one for them,” Cook said. “It was fun and we even had runs to raise money to purchase our own trees.”

She and her students would spend approximately a week learning about trees, making posters and watching videos.

Cook was the catalyst for many Wapakoneta students to embrace the premises of Arbor Day and plant trees throughout the community.

“I can’t remember how many trees were planted by the kids of Wapakoneta City Schools (more than 30), but my very favorite is the blue spruce on the south side of the (Auglaize County) Courthouse,” Cook said.

She also had a special fondness for the blue spruce they planted at Rudd-Yoakum Park, which is now decorated with lights each Christmas.

Having spent the last 12 years teaching third-graders, Cook said she never thought she’d enjoy such a young age but they proved to be her favorite age to teach.

“They love to learn and are excited about everything,” Cook said. “The best thing about third-graders is that they still giggle. What a wonderful sound to hear on a daily basis.”

She admitted it was quite an adjustment when she switched to the younger grade and that she hadn’t taught reading or math for quite a few years, but she relearned what she needed to know to teach them and it turned out OK.

“I still preferred to teach science and usually was able to teach two periods of that by partnering with another teacher,” Cook said.

She liked getting involved with all the new technology teachers were able to utilize, including interactive white boards.

“It kept me involved and motivated to learn more myself,” Cook said.

She piloted the new math series this year, which uses a tremendous amount of technology to make both the teacher’s job easier and the students’ job of learning more exciting.

“I loved discovering all of the things you could do,” Cook said.

Thinking back on her career, Cook said she is grateful to have worked with so many talented teachers, starting with when she began teaching at 22-years-old at Centennial Elementary School.

“I had some of the best mentors a young teacher could ask for,” Cook said. “I hope a young teacher today is able to include me in their thoughts when they retire.”

While Cook said she always embraced a new teaching challenge, she was most fond of her years teaching when there was a more relaxed learning environment without the pressure of testing.

Along the way, Cook remembers a Northridge Band and watching children’s faces while they were watching a chick hatch, and counts those among her favorite memories, along with the rocket launches and tree plantings.

 Cook had always told herself that she would teach at least 35 years and then after that she would work as long as she felt healthy and was still effective in the classroom. She also wanted to retire with good memories of her last class, and she described her third-graders this year as wonderful.

“The kids were fun, made me laugh, were great students, and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching them,” Cook said.

Like many other teachers, she said changes being made with the state retirement system also pushed her toward her decision to retire now.

With her new found free time, Cook plans to volunteer at the Wapakoneta Elementary School, where she told her colleagues she would be back to help them in their rooms.

“They were great co-workers and I know I’ll like keeping in touch with all of them,” Cook said.

On her off days, Cook said she’ll be enjoying late morning coffee with the Today Show and a daily crossword puzzle.

A sister lives in Florida and she said she plans to visit her when winter hits Ohio, and she also wants to go to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in the fall, something she has wanted to do for a while.

“I like to sew, go to auctions, and I have a couple of reupholstery projects waiting on me, too,” Cook said. “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble staying busy.”