Elizabeth Franks – Athens State University

elizabeth-franksI’m a retired Army Officer which means I had already completed degrees from other colleges but, I didn’t want to do the same things I had done for 24 years, that was why I retired. My husband and I moved to Alabama, two weeks later we went to his company picnic at the Huntsville Botanical Garden and I fell in love with the place. We became members that day, a few weeks later I got a newsletter about what was “Growing On” at the garden. There was a small article about becoming a volunteer with a list of ways I could volunteer, what interested me most was the children’s programs. I had done volunteering for a wide variety of children’s programs while serving in the Army. When anyone would ask me what I planned to do once I retired I would always say, “I don’t know but I like working with kids so I might teach.” I applied to be a substitute teacher, fell in love with Piney Chapel Elementary and became a volunteer at the garden in the children’s program. I loved doing both but I’m an outdoor person so my emotions pulled me to the garden. I did the 6 week training to become a docent in the children’s education program and became a lead (that means I teach new volunteers what they need to do). One day I was talking to one of the certified teachers at the garden and realized I really loved using the outdoor as the foundation for teaching. I knew I didn’t want to just teach what someone had asked me to do, I wanted to be good at it and I had ideas running through my head on what I wanted to teach. I went home one day after being at Piney and announced that I wanted to become a teacher. My husband said “so what’s new, you’re always going to school.” My son’s said “Mom have you ever stopped going to school?” I wanted to get my certification in physical education than I found out, in order to teach in a classroom for a teacher that needs to take extended leave I had to be a certified elementary teacher. Once again I announced to my family, “I’m going to become a certified physical education and elementary education teacher.” My family laughed and said “go figure.”

I started looking at all my options of where to go to school. In the greater Huntsville area we have several good universities to choose from but one stood out from the rest for what I wanted to do, Athens State University. People would ask, why ASU and I would say they have a great reputation for producing well rounded, prepared to hit the ground running teachers, which was what I wanted to be. I would then add, “And I can run to the school so why would I go to anyplace less than a school that has been proven to produce the best.” My transcripts came from everywhere, Mrs. Bonnie Heatherly became my advisor. I announced to her that I was going to do both degrees, at the same time. I think she thought, “What have I gotten myself into with this one”. In spite of all the work I caused her, all the emails I sent to her venting about some assignment I didn’t want to do, disappointment in myself, joy unable to contain, and refusal to take the easy way out, she has been with me and supported me. Every teacher I had while attending ASU went above and beyond, what any other teacher had ever done for me at other schools. I had to do two internships at ASU, my supervisors for each one didn’t just come and observe me they helped me find ways to do it better using my style of teaching, and never once tried to change who I was as a teacher.

The entire time I was working on my two degrees I remained a volunteer at the garden. The head of the garden’s education department knew when I graduated I wanted to be a certified teacher at the garden, she also knew PE was my first love. I am now the third certified teacher at the garden; the only PE teacher. My boss offered me the part time job I wanted because I wasn’t willing to give up my position as a lead docent. I teach standards based PE for all the children’s camp programs. I create lesson plans for our homeschool program and I even took 25 adults on a 3.1 mile educational fitness walk through the garden because my boss thought it was a good idea.

I’m still taking classes at ASU, I promised Dr. Windy Cowan I would come back and get my minors in Health Fitness (which I completed) and Technology Education (still working on it). I wear my class ring with pride and when asked where I earned my degrees I proudly say “Athens State University, why would I go anyplace else, they’re the best…and I can run to class” (it’s only 8 miles and we have a shower in the gym).

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