There are more than 300 staff members around Rockwood School District who were Rockwood students during their K-12 years. "Then and Now" is a series that highlights some of their stories and what has made Rockwood special to them as both students and educators. Jenni Highfill and Rachel Hill, Spanish, Eureka High
In 2009, Eureka High Spanish teacher Jenni Highfill wrote that her student Rachel Lindley was "an incredible young woman" and "a beautiful person inside and out" as part of Lindley's nomination for one of the school's Gold Standard awards.
After working with Lindley – now Hill – as a fellow Spanish teacher at Eureka for the past seven years, Highfill feels the same way. And Hill gets a daily reminder of one of the main reasons she wanted to be a Spanish teacher in the first place.
"I was the Spanish teacher's pet," said Hill, who had Highfill for two years at Eureka. "I was a good student, did what I was supposed to do, got good grades and studied, but I wasn't really standing out until I was in Spanish. That was a class where I really felt that a teacher noticed what I was doing."
Both Highfill and Hill grew up attending Rockwood schools. Both were part of the first classes at new elementary schools: Highfill at Stanton and Hill at Blevins. Both studied abroad in Madrid through Saint Louis University.
But, while Highfill always knew she wanted to be a teacher and eventually decided on Spanish, Hill started out studying Spanish and eventually wanted to become a teacher.
"I was a first-generation college student. I didn't really have a lot of people to turn to and ask for advice," Hill said. "I reached out to Jenni and asked if this was a good idea, if I should go this route. And she, obviously, said 'yes.'"
Highfill has taught Spanish at Eureka for the past 27 years. Two of her former students, Hill and Julie Weitzel, are now colleagues in her department.
not the only two that have gone on to be Spanish teachers, but they’re ones
that I’m glad came back here to teach,” Highfill said. "Rachel
was a great student and a fun person because she had more of a mature sense of humor.”
Highfill said it's been a joy to see former students succeed over the years. She has so many pictures of them up on her wall that the bulletin board panel that once contained them is overflowing. Many, like Hill, find their way back to Eureka High.
It's much the same path Highfill traveled when she was a young teacher looking for a place to start her career.
"I feel like I've grown up here. I have: being in the district from the time I was 5, through so many phases of my life," Highfill said. "When you look at all the teachers who are here that graduated from here and want to come back, that really speaks to something that's different than most districts. It's very particular to Rockwood and very specific to Eureka."