Reaching Out: Jane Hall Retires and Leaves Behind a Legacy of Service

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Reaching Out: Jane Hall Retires and Leaves Behind a Legacy of Service

By Emma Boczek and Emma Talkoff

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Hall smiles with paraeducator Meredith Bransfield while building a home with her students through the organization Habitat for Humanity. Hall takes her class to a Habitat building site almost every month. This, along with other community service, is just one of the many things Hall does with her Special Day Class outside of school. Photo Courtesy of: Meredith Bransfield

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Hall smiles with paraeducator Meredith Bransfield while building a home with her students through the organization Habitat for Humanity. Hall takes her class to a Habitat building site almost every month. This, along with other community service, is just one of the many things Hall does with her Special Day Class outside of school.
Photo Courtesy of: Meredith Bransfield

Jane Hall’s time at Tam has been anything but conventional. Over her 16-year career here as a special education teacher, Hall has built homes with her students through Habitat for Humanity and driven her students to the jobs and internships she helped them obtain through the career program she piloted.

Hall has also visited former students in juvenile hall and jail. “I ask them if they’re reading, and actually they do start reading in jail,” Hall said. “They keep saying, ‘Send us more books, send us more books.’ “It’s frustrating, because you say, come on, the kid was getting there. He was doing so well, and then circumstances come in, fate or something, being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Hall said. “It’s horrible, I hate it.”

Along with these visits, Hall has played many roles for students at Tam—serving as a confidant, mentor, disciplinarian and, as she puts it, “a cheerleader.” Hall teaches history as part of the Special Day Class (SDC), a program designed for students who face challenging circumstances that interfere with their academic achievement. Next year, SDC will feel Hall’s absence as she retires to become the president of Mill Valley’s Rotary Club.

According to Hall, special education programs like SDC allow her to develop a closer bond with students and their families. “You get to know them really well, they come by, you see them in the community, and their families,” she said. “I feel like they’re sort of my kids. You get that kind of a feeling, because you see them for so long. You see them change and grow for four years. That’s really nice.”

BEFORE I DIE: Last year, members of the Special Day Class constructed a “Before I Die” wall modeled after the work of artist Candy Chang, who started the project in New Orleans. “Our kids just really said ‘let’s do it,’” Hall said. Hall saw the project as a positive way for students to connect to the school at large, and build their own confidence. “Kids who had had nothing to do with feeling really good about themselves did a wonderful job,” she said. One student, said Hall, was able to use skills acquired in part through the Before I Die project to pursue a Workplace Learning internship building tall ships in Sausalito. “It’s fantastic,” said Hall, who drives the student to his work twice a week. Photo by: Holly Parkin

BEFORE I DIE: Last year, members of the Special Day Class constructed a “Before I Die” wall modeled after the work of artist Candy Chang, who started the project in New Orleans. “Our kids just really said ‘let’s do it,’” Hall said. Hall saw the project as a positive way for students to connect to the school at large, and build their own confidence. “Kids who had had nothing to do with feeling really good about themselves did a wonderful job,” she said. One student, said Hall, was able to use skills acquired in part through the Before I Die project to pursue a Workplace Learning internship building tall ships in Sausalito. “It’s fantastic,” said Hall, who drives the student to his work twice a week. Photo by: Holly ParkiThe students in SDC are placed in the class because they either demonstrate a gap between their academic ability and performance, or experience emotional or behavioral challenges. They are “very bright, but they need a lot of support,” Hall said.
Photo by: Holly Parkin

Hall started her career in education in 1965 in North Carolina and then returned to graduate school for a special education degree. She worked in congressional relations in the State Department in the ‘60s, and likes to use current events to keep students engaged in her class.

“I’ve got a lot of experience in government, so I love that,” Hall said. “Mainly, you have to be a cheerleader. Try and get the kids interested in it too.” In addition to keeping the curriculum relevant and up-to-date—“I never teach the same thing twice,” she said—Hall emphasizes the value of reading, and tries to make authors like Shakespeare more accessible to her students.

Senior Emily was in Hall’s class for two years; her name, along with those of her classmates, was withheld for privacy reasons.

“She’s a great teacher and she helped me a lot,” Emily said. “There’s some kids in [Hall’s class] who have a difficult time learning, I should say, including me. But I think Ms. Hall helped us get through most of that. She was very good with students… I know her job was very hard and difficult at times. But I think that she did a great job, and we all really care about her for that.”

Hall’s classroom management strategy is to keep students interested and on-topic, something freshman Max occasionally struggles with. “My favorite memory was a time I came to class late, and I was being disruptive when I walked in, and I said something that was totally out of line. I stopped myself and I said – ‘germane,’” Max said, referring to one of Hall’s signature phrases— “Is that germane?”— which she uses to remind students to refocus and bring the conversation to a class-relevant topic.

“Even though sometimes I was a pain, she would always make me feel better,” Max said. “She just handled it in a good way, and I really liked how she did it.”

Hall’s relationships with students extend beyond the classroom. Almost every month, Hall takes students to Habitat for Humanity building sites in the Bay Area.

Senior James has participated in the Habitat builds. “I never did community service before, and I don’t know, it just made me feel good, just to help somebody out, instead of getting in trouble and stuff,” James said.

Hall also implemented Tam’s Counseling Enriched Classroom (CEC), a program aimed at students with more serious emotional or psychological needs. CEC was started by Hall and an SDC aide around 10 years ago, when it became apparent to teachers that some students in SDC weren’t receiving the psychological support they needed.

“I felt that these kids who were in our class had huge issues that weren’t being dealt with or helped,” Hall said. “And so we yelled and screamed and stomped around [until] the superintendent got money and had a psychologist come into our classroom.”

Lisa Mei, Tam’s current psychologist, meeting with CEC students in an office adjoining the SDC classroom. “Being in the back of the room, I can assist with things as they come up,” Mei said. “If there’s some [challenging] behaviors in the room, or if the student’s having a hard day, they can come back and check in.”

Hall also established the Workplace Learning program, which has become a central part of her role at Tam and which fellow SDC teacher Isaias Franco hopes to continue next school year. Hall’s career program gives upperclassmen in SDC the opportunity to take on local internships and part-time jobs, many of which Hall said has led to full-time careers after students graduate. Students in the program also learn personal finance skills, including setting up a bank account and creating a personal budget. The program has hosted guest speakers who talked to students about job interview strategies.

The program receives funding from the Tam High Foundation, paying students a small amount of money for their work at local businesses, including Malugani Tire Center and nearby restaurants, as well as volunteer work and internships at elementary schools and the Redwoods. To Hall, the point isn’t so much providing the students with income as it is preparing them for future employment and giving them valuable workplace skills and connections. Mei said the goals of Hall’s program are “to find out what students’ strengths and talents are, and match them with a job, and then reinforcing all of those skills of showing up on time, responsibility, how to conduct yourself at an interview.”

James is also a participant in the Workplace Learning program. “[Ms. Hall] helped me get a job that I really needed,” James said. He continues to hold a job at Goodman’s Hardware that he secured through the program. In addition to helping students like James get and keep jobs, Hall makes a point of being involved in students’ lives in other ways. “She drove me to my court date so I could get my community service hours done,” James said. “She’s more than a teacher, she’s like a grandma.”

Another benefit of the Workplace Learning program is the opportunity it provides for out-of-class bonding. “Some of my most enjoyable hours with these kids is when I’m taking them to jobs,” Hall said. “They really let down their hair, and I do too. It’s really good when we can really connect, and that’s been a surprising offshoot of the intern program.”

In a community such as Tam’s, Franco said, where much emphasis is placed on preparing all students for four-year colleges after graduation, Hall’s program is a vital alternative. “So many times, Tam being a really high-achieving school, a lot of emphasis is put on academics, but Ms. Hall really gets that [for] our students, yes academics are important, but they need these outside opportunities like the Workplace Learning,” Franco said. “Those types of activities are the things that really stick with these guys, and in my opinion have the biggest impact on really creating a positive change in our students’ lives.”

Hall also emphasized the importance of preparing students for work after graduation, something that she thinks is undervalued by members of the school community. While she emphasizes the importance of giving all students equal opportunities and access to higher education, Hall said she would like to see more of a focus put on preparing students for a variety of paths through more extensive job training, expansion of the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) or even innovative alternatives like culinary schools. “I think we need to honor other areas as well,” Hall said. “It makes me mad because I don’t feel like anything other than really hotshot places [is honored].”

SDC courses are categorized as “modified” on students’ transcripts, preventing those courses from receiving UC credit. Right now, Hall said, she sees a push towards college prep that may put students who choose to pursue work directly after high school at a disadvantage. “I think that if some people are clearly not going to go [to college], for a variety of different reasons… it’s short-sighted,” she said.

Jennifer Newman, a former student of Hall’s, became interested in working with the elderly after volunteering at the Redwoods in the early 2000s through the program. Today, she is a marketing director at the senior assisted living facility Aegis San Rafael. “Being at the Redwoods opened my eyes into really liking to be in that kind of environment around the elderly population, and I was actually really able to connect with a lot of them in so many ways,” Newman said.

“Her message is to follow your dream and do something that you really love,” Newman said. “No matter what we chose to do, she knew that we were going to give it our all, and be great at it, despite the fact that we had learning issues. She really, really believed in us, and I think that had a lot to do with the confidence we had in going into the jobs that a lot of us in her class have today.”

Hall said seeing successes like Newman’s, or other students who have gone on to complete EMT training or secure other jobs is rewarding—but she doesn’t take credit. “That’s really exciting and very, very gratifying. And it’s not what we’ve done here, they’ve just matured in most cases,” Hall said. This is a philosophy that Hall extends to all aspects of her work, and one that she hopes parents can see, too. “I keep saying, my [thoughts are] on their future. What are they going to be like when they’re 25, 28? And you know what, I’m really excited,” Hall said.

SAFE HAVEN: The Special Day Classroom is decorated with many quotes, such as the one featured above. and different country flags that add to the interesting and fun learning environment. Photo Courtesy of: Tandis Shoushtary

SAFE HAVEN: The Special Day Classroom is decorated with many quotes, such as the one featured above. and different country flags that add to the interesting and fun learning environment. Photo Courtesy of: Tandis Shoushtary

Of course, not all students achieve success after their time in Hall’s class. Some, like those Hall has visited in jail, continue to struggle after high school, to the detriment of their education and careers. “You know, it’s sad,” said Hall. “Very sad. But it’s life.” Keeping a positive attitude in the face of these circumstances is part of what Hall loves about teaching. “Seeing things that we’ve done here that pay off for later, or make a difference in the kids’ lives,” said Hall. “I know it sounds corny, but it’s really true. I mean, that’s why all teachers are weirdos. We all come in for the same reason, basically.”

This attitude is informed in part by Hall’s own experience as a parent. (Hall raised a son and three daughters, and considers herself a “survivor” of teenagers.) “I think being a parent really does help, particularly with kids who are struggling, and their parents,” Hall said. “Their parents are tearing their hair out, saying, ‘What am I going to do? This kid is not going to shape up, I’ve got to get him to school’… I can say in all honesty to the parents, ‘Your kid is a good kid. Don’t despair.’”

Next year, Hall will leave SDC and the Workplace Learning program behind to take on a role as president of Mill Valley Rotary, a program she became interested in while searching for jobs for her students. “I love Rotary because their slogan is ‘Service Above Self,’ and I believe in that. I believe in public service,” Hall said. “I did join only to get jobs for my students but I stayed in because I love the projects that they do all over the world.” Hall left Tam in late May to travel to Sydney, Australia for an international Rotary conference.

The program will face some changes as well. Next year, the CEC and SDC will be more separated (currently, the classes are mixed). “Combining both groups of students, you really see that there’s a big discrepancy in the needs that those students have,” Franco said. “So by having two separate classes, you get to address the needs of those students better.”

Hall said that she would prefer the classes remain integrated, recalling the earliest days of CEC when both groups of students would participate in group therapy sessions together. “I enjoyed having all those kids together,” she said. “And now you have to make a choice which one you want. The idea from the national level is to have all the kids who would be in classes with more challenges to be completely mainstreamed, and I disagree with that.” Hall said that in her experience, the national conversation tends to cycle between mainstreaming and increasing the separation between regular and special education classes. “It’s been a big circle,” she said.

Hall is in favor of providing greater support for students, even if that means moving them away from mainstream classes. “It’s just a different philosophical point of view,” she said.

Separating SDC students from their peers can create concern over how the class is perceived. “Other kids think that [SDC] is like a retard class, or a slow class or something,” James said. “I don’t really like that part, but I don’t know. Ms. Hall always like helps me get over all that, like all those other kids name calling.”

SDC will have to adjust next year to Hall’s absence. “The hardest part is trying to find somebody to fill her shoes,” paraeducator Cassandra Stone said.

“She walks in the room and the energy skyrockets,” paraeducator Meredith Bransfield added. “There will be no replacing of Jane Hall.”

Franco agreed that Hall’s absence would be felt, particularly by students. “They’re going to lose a motherly, grandmotherly type figure,” he said. ‘Because no matter who the kid is, even if they’re having a difficult day, I can tell that those students know that Ms. Hall cares for them, without any strings attached.”