It's just after 7:30 a.m. and below 35 degrees when the yellow bus carrying a group of Wisconsin Hills Middle School students pulls up behind the Brownberry Ovens bakery in Brookfield.
Jean Woolridge's leadership team has arrived.
Woolridge, a special education teacher at Wisconsin Hills, brought them here, as she has every Tuesday while school's in session for the past four years.
Other volunteers, mostly elderly, stand next to their vans, waiting for the students to start unloading the trays of bread loaves and English muffins. The seventh- and eighth-graders take command and start to stack bread neatly - and sometimes not so neatly - in the back of vehicles. One van is stacked so high it renders the rear view mirror useless.
As a reading and life skills teacher, Woolridge appreciates how the weekly excursion builds character in her students. "What I really like is the social skills the kids develop by talking to the adults."
Bringing the kids here is only part of the lesson. Woolridge wants the kids to grasp the significance of their volunteerism. "When we can, we try to do a field trip to a pantry so the kids can see where it goes." They recently went to the Hope House in Milwaukee to help the homeless.
Eighth-grader Fauste Christ knows she's learning something by coming here. "But I can't find the words to describe it." She pauses and tries again. "I think that I'm learning that helping people is better than sitting in school. I'd rather be out here helping people."
It's efforts like the bread drive that made Woolridge the winner of the outstanding educator of the year award, as chosen by the Brookfield Jaycees, a nonprofit organization that provides development opportunities to empower young people.
Andy Nosbush, president of the Jaycees, said public school teachers don't get the recognition they deserve for helping kids achieve their goals.
"Too often you see sports athletes getting recognized. We've got to question ourselves when baseball players are celebrated for batting .300. That's hitting only 30 percent of the time," he said. Teachers, meanwhile, connect 100 percent of the time.
Susan McDonald, associate principal at Wisconsin Hills, introduced Woolridge at the service award ceremony at the Venice Club on Friday.
"Our students find their personal sense of leadership, purpose, and value in this service. The change in their confidence and belief in self is visibly apparent," McDonald said.
Only in Elmbrook
Woolridge's 24 years of teaching has been entirely with the Elmbrook School District. She spent her first eight years at Pilgrim Park Middle School and then moved to Wisconsin Hills. "We have supportive parents and a supportive district. It's nice to go to work everyday."
After finishing high school at Waukesha South, Woolridge went on to earn her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She simultaneously took business and education courses until field work at a public school revealed her passion for teaching.
"When I volunteered I was in a special ed class and that was amazing," she said. "I like the smaller group of kids, I get to connect with them more."
Plans for the future
With her students' success so obviously combined with community service, Woolridge wants to expand volunteerism to more students.
"What we want to do is write a grant for a van for our building so that we can do more community outreach with this group, and make it bigger by taking more kids from the school," she said.
Tuesday's trip to Brownberry was not for any specific class. Students aren't competing for any kind of grade. But Woolridge has made it clear that there is one requirement.
"I tell the kids that when they're 18, they need to come back and tell me what they're doing," she said. "And every year someone visits me, and it's one of my favorite things."
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Despite Elm Grove residents' concerns, Juneau Pathway approved Monday
- Loaded handgun taken from unlocked car in Brookfield
- Ask NOW: When will the Capitol Drive construction be over?
- Brookfield and Elm Grove police join national Click It or Ticket campaign
- Pilgrim Park students' rocket takes first at regional competition
- Water main project in Elm Grove could cause delays
- In Our Schools: May 20
- News & Notes: May 20
- Man charged with fleeing Brookfield police making drunken driving stop
- City: Brookfield drinking water is safe despite contamination warning