Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Fort leaves school with collection of memories

by Steve Targo

July 07, 2011

Genoa City — Vicki Fort has an album full of pictures and notes featuring students from the last third-grade class of her 37-year teaching career.

“Dear Mrs. Fort, I’m sad because you were the best teacher since I’ve been in school,” James Ivy stated in his note in the album. “I’m really going to miss you.”

Fort said Melissa Volck, mother of one of her former students at Brookwood Elementary School in Genoa City, compiled the album. Most of Fort’s 37 years in front of the classroom were spent at the school.

Typically, you don’t see the kind of send-off Fort received if you’re some curmudgeonly shrew wearing a perpetual frown, looking for a chance to yell at the first sign someone’s talking out of turn in class.

But that’s not Fort. On the last day of the 2010-11 year, students and staff pulled out all the stops to send her off right.

“A first-grade teacher and the guidance counselor taught and led the children through the song ‘So Long, Farewell,’ from ‘The Sound of Music,’” she said. “That brought on the tears.”

Fort said she also received “wonderful handmade cards” and flowers, including one from a student who touched her heart.

“I had one little boy who really, really struggled,” she said. “For part of the year, he wasn’t really happy being in school. He was one of the ones who brought me flowers during the assembly, and he had a big smile on his face. Of course, the rest of the year had gone much better for him.”

Fort never said it, but it’s likely she played a role in that student’s improvement, as well as the futures of at least some of the 710 people she taught throughout her career.

“I have one former student who’s a lawyer now,” she said. “Who knows? It could be something I did as their third-grade teacher which may have led this person to their career path.”

That’s how Fort found hers. When asked why she wanted to teach, Fort’s answer was simple and immediate: “My third-grade teacher,” she said, Marion Cox, a woman she described as “grandmotherly.”

“I just fell in love with her, and I always wanted to be just like her,” Fort said. “She was just a really wonderful, caring lady. I think she could teach anybody anything and I had so much fun with her.

I think that was probably the first time I really liked school.”

Fort grew up in Delavan, and after obtaining her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she started her teaching career at St. Andrews.

Four years later, Fort came to Brookwood.

“It was a close-knit family (at St. Andrews), so when I went to Brookwood, it wasn’t that much different,” she said.

Fort said she has taught third- through sixth-grade students, but for 30 years, it’s been a third-grade class.

Since first teaching at Brookwood in 1978, the biggest change she saw was the construction of Brookwood Middle School in 1999.

Although hallways at the elementary school were cramped prior to the addition of a middle school, Fort said she believes an even bigger change was losing the older students.

“The older kids were sort of like role models to the younger ones,”

she said. “We also had mentoring programs.”

But the biggest change in teaching, according to Fort, won’t be found in bricks or mortar. She said teaching has become better tailored to meet the individual needs of each student.

“It used to just be we had a third-grade curriculum and this is what we follow,” Fort said. “Now, I think we’re looking more at the needs of each kid. I think it’s a good change.”

Care about kids

Fifty-nine years old and, in her words, “proud of it,” Fort said it’s all about having fun. She didn’t mind making fun of herself, either.

“For a long time, age-wise, I was the oldest third-grade teacher at Brookwood,” Fort said.

So, she came up with her own routine. Whenever they would begin a unit about dinosaurs, one you probably have to be in third-grade to appreciate.

“I always told the kids I was a dinosaur in my other life,” she said.

“They would always look at me, like they were about to say, ‘Really?’

They were in awe. I remember one girl took me seriously.”

Fort said she loves kids, but she didn’t have to. The pride in which she discussed past units and the simple fact she knows the number of students who sat in the desks of her classroom are clear indications of her love of teaching, a profession she said she always wanted to do.

Although she said it was time to retire, for “a lot of personal reasons,” one of the big reasons has roots in her love of children.

“A big part of it was I had a really wonderful class this year and I have so many wonderful memories of these kids,” Fort said. “Plus, I have six grandkids I want to spoil.”

She said she and her husband, Don, also want to travel.

But don’t expect this dinosaur to head to the tar pits anytime soon.

“I’ll still sub next year, but I’ll miss the kids,” Fort said. “I’m giving up the job, but I’m not giving up teaching.”