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Ries, Hanson plan for life after Big Foot High School

Heading National Honors Society

Ries (click for larger version)

ART TEACHER WON HERB KOHL AWARD Walworth — In the entrance near the Big Foot High School art department, students hang their sculptures from the rafters and decorate the district's hallways with their masterpieces. The art often depicts pop culture and it normally catches the attention of visitors. When students from neighboring schools enter the building, art teacher Mark Hanson enjoys hearing what kids say about the work. "It is fun to hear comments, it is unedited and unsolicited," Hanson said. Hearing those comments and working with the students who create the masterpieces are a few of the things Hanson will miss after he retires at the end of the school year. Teaching kids to work with art is an area where Hanson's colleagues say he is gifted. "Mark can take a kid who can't write his name well, and teach them to create a product that is fantastic," Marsha Reis said. Hanson said creating art isn't as difficult as people think — and that anyone can do it. "Art is a very personal thing. We talk about making your art personal to you," Hanson said. Hanson said past students have studied graphic design and become art teachers, but he also enjoys working with students who don't have professional aspirations for their art. "I'm happy for even those students who are inspired enough who want to pursue it for enjoyment," he said. He said students at Big Foot are creative and have powerful ideas for artistic pieces. "I always encourage them to express themselves, and that they have the ability to express themselves, but they have to be careful not to cross the line of inappropriate," Hanson said. Hanson said students are have used alcohol or beer bottles to create pieces that show the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. "High school kids are very bright and very talented," Hanson said. A capstone in Hanson's career has been winning the prestigious Herb Kohl Fellowship — an annual award that is given to the state's top educators. For the award, he received letters of recommendation from District Administrator Dorothy Kaufmann, who credited Hanson for rebuilding a "barely functional" department. On personal levels, Hanson has reached out to students on the "verge of suicide and counseled students away from making dangerous and/or inappropriate choices," according to Kaufmann's letter for the Kohl scholarship. During his tenure at the school, Hanson launched the school's art club. He said the art club draws students from all different demographics. He said students with the variety of interests will spend the day working on projects and laughing together, Hanson said. The art department also has raised more than $25,000 for Relay for Life. His teaching career began in the Woodstock School District, where he taught "art on a cart," which is where he pushed art supplies around to different classrooms. However, the Woodstock School District faced budget positions and received a pink slip. Luckily, he was later able to secure a job working as an art teacher in the Reek and Sharon school districts. After working for more than 10 years at elementary schools, former students approached him and told him an art position was opening at Big Foot High School. Hanson said Wisconsin's budget situation prompted him to retire earlier than planned — he said he had at least one more year that he wanted to teach. In retirement, Hanson plans to volunteer at SMILES, special methods in learning equine skills, Inc. He also plans on making his own art. Hanson also said he hopes to substitute in the art department. Hanson also will talk about his 2-1/2 children. The art educator has two birth sons, Peter and Andrew. His family also considers Jeremy, a foreign exchange student who stayed with him from Brazil, a member of his family. "All three boys are very close to this day," Hanson said. "Our son Peter went the next year to Brazil." When Jeremy stayed with the Hansons they all developed a bond. In later years, Jeremy's family and the Hansons met, and, even though Jeremy's family doesn't speak English, the two groups were able to communicate. "It's really uncanny how that works," Hanson said.
May 18, 2011 | 08:35 AM
Walworth — Marsha Ries' eyes become red as she holds back tears when she talks about leaving Big Foot High School.

"I love teaching, teaching is who I am," Ries, a history teacher, said about her upcoming retirement.

Ries, who has taught history for 20 years at the school, is retiring at the end of the year.

But at the beginning of the school year, Ries didn't think this would be her last semester in a classroom. In fact she planned to teach for another three to five years.

However, the political climate in Wisconsin has changed and so has the security of Ries' pension, she said. She said the reason she retired was to ensure her retirement stayed intact.

Ries teaches U.S. History, Advance Placement U.S. History and a Vietnam War course at the school.

"I love all of history. I can't possibly understand what is going on today without knowing the past," Reis said. "You can't be well-educated without knowing what happened."

Reis' colleagues say she has knack for teaching students and is passionate about history.

Mark Hanson, an art teacher at the school, said his adult son, who was in Reis' class, said she was one of the best teachers he ever had.

"He said he learned something for her," Hanson said.

Pat Schenk, a special education teacher at Big Foot High School, said she has worked with Reis in her classroom.

"Everyone knows that she cares about the kids and her subject," Schenk said.

To keep more kids involved, Reis organizes the student's desks in a nontraditional format, which brings more kids to the front row. The students in the back row also are a little closer to the action than normal.

On Fridays, students review current events and Reis throws a globe, a soft one, around the classroom. Wherever a student's thumb lands, he or she has to tell Reis something that is occurring in that country.

Reis said during this exercise she looks for students to connect history to explain what is occurring in the world.

"I want to get on a table and dance when I hear the kids make an application," Reis said. "It happens more than you can imagine."

Reis said the Vietnam War class provides students with a detailed understanding of the conflict, and Reis said most schools don't offer classes that provide this type of depth.

"By the time they leave the class they have a good handle on it," Reis said. "When they get it, they can make the connection."

Reis said she enjoys teaching freshman at the school because she enjoys witnessing the students' growth.

"When they arrive in the fall, they are little kids, and in the spring they are young adults," Reis said. "It is the biggest mental growth."

In addition to teaching, Reis also is the adviser for the school's National Honor Society, a position which she has held for about 12 years.

Since Reis took over the program, it has evolved into a civic organization that works within the community.

Performing well academically isn't the only requirement to be part of the National Honor Society. Students also are required to develop character and leadership skills and perform community service.

Reis believes it is important to have students perform community service. The NHS students fundraiser for various organizations, work on food drive, assist in community events including the Fire and Rescue Chicken Barbecue and Big Foot Lobster Boil and organize blood drives.

"When you start giving blood early you end up making it a lifelong habit," she said.

Recently, the students held a taco night to raise funds for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.

"These kids are so bright, they need to know that being bright isn't enough," Reis said. "It is amazing to watch them flower in NHS."

In retirement

Reis said she hasn't had a lot of time to wrap her head around retiring and doesn't have big plans.

"I'm going to read a lot. I have a big garden, I'll be working in that a lot," Reis said.

She also has three adult children and seven grandchildren, two of whom haven't entered school yet.

Reis said she also may consider some long-term substitute teaching.

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